May 20, 2011
By Jon Cooper
– Julienne McKee isn’t the first teenager to leave high school thinking that she knew it all.
She’s also not the first to learn upon arriving in college that admitting she doesn’t and listening to those around her, especially her coaches, could make a world of difference.
Making that realization when she arrived at Georgia Tech has helped her prosper.
McKee will represent the Yellow Jackets at the NCAA Division I Mens and Women’s Outdoor Championship East Preliminaries, which take place next weekend at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. She qualified 11th in the triple jump and 38th in the long jump.
“The biggest adjustment would be listening to my coach,” said the freshman from Marietta, who led Lassiter High School to the 5A State Championship as a senior, by winning both the triple jump and long jump. “Normally I would just do whatever I wanted to do, but now I really have to focus on what my coach tells me to do.”
It’s understandable that the talented McKee would want to do things her way. Doing it her way she earned the state record for the triple jump in last year’s state championships, when she hopped, skipped and jumped 41 feet, seven inches, surpassing the previous record of Stephenson High School’s Latoya Lagree by four inches.
But that was high school. Making the leap to the college level, especially at Georgia Tech, required a new approach, one to which she was open from Day One.
“For long jump and triple jump I just tried to listen to what my coach said each and every time,” McKee said. “Just remembering his words telling me what to do and be confident and just execute and think about what to do before I jumped. For the 200, he just told me in practice what I needed to do before or when I ran the race, what I needed to focus on, and that’s what I did.”
The improvements began immediately, as McKee improved in each meet during her initial indoor season, finishing with season-bests in the triple jump (12.69 meters), the long jump (5.99M) and a 25.46 in the 200 meters.
During the outdoor season, she dropped more than a second off her 200 time, (25.78 to a season-best 24.51, at the UNF Osprey Invitational), progressed in the long jump, 5.89 meters at the early-December Clemson Orange & Purple Winter Classic to 6.05 at the early-April FSU Seminole Invitational, and finally, in the triple jump, she ended the year at 12.89 meters at the ACCs, coming from 12.09 at the Clemson Invitational in early January.
McKee made adjustments to succeed in the classroom that were similar to those she made to improve on the track.
“It’s difficult, especially coming to a school like this, it’s hard to adjust, because I didn’t really study in high school,” she said with a laugh. “Now I really had to buckle down and I had to study and then for training, I really had to buckle down with that. It was a lot.”
A lot but not too much for her to handle. McKee, a Biology major, finished the fall semester with a 3.33 GPA and earned ACC All-Academic honors.
“I definitely managed my time. After practice, I scheduled what I needed to do for each hour or how long I was going to study for each night. I feel extremely proud of myself because I didn’t know what to expect when I came here but I tried to do my best.”
Her best keeps getting better in all walks, runs and jumps of life.
She had her highlight moment of the spring season at the ACC Outdoor Championships, when she reached the 42-foot mark in triple jump competition.
A week later, she earned third-place in the long jump at the prestigious Penn Relays, going 6.01 meters (19’8.75″). McKee admitted that she fed off the atmosphere and the energy of the crowd.
“It was really exciting. You could hear everybody cheering and clapping,” she recalled. “Even if it wasn’t for you, you could still get excited and I had a great time being there and seeing everybody compete in all the relays. It was really fun.”
Next up are the NCAAs.
Despite being a freshman, McKee is not — and has never been — intimidated by the prospect of competing against some of the best collegiate athletes in the nation.
“I think those people that are the best fuel me to try to be as best as I can be,” she said. “I’m really happy that I got to compete with such great athletes.”
She expects the experience to only get better as she further matures and improves.
“I think I’ll definitely be in a better shape to come out for my indoor season. I’ll know what to expect,” she said. “I think I’ll figure out what I need to work on and improve on. So I think I’ll be stronger and better just all around and I hope I can show that next year.”