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Making The Grade

June 6, 2014

By Jon Cooper The Good Word

The difference between a superior student and a very good one is the reaction to a B-plus grade.

The good student will be satisfied and take the B-Plus. The superior one will not.

Student-athletes hold themselves to the same high standard.

Julienne McKee knows she’s very good. She’s qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in the long jump or the triple jump, or both, all four years she’s been a Yellow Jacket. But she wants that higher grade and a title, which has eluded her — she has one top-10 finish, a 10th in the long jump as a sophomore in 2012.

In 2014, she wants that higher grade, and believes she’s ready to earn it.

“I would say right now I’m like a B-plus,” she said. “But if I do well at Nationals then I’ll say I got an A for my performance.”

McKee will join teammates Jonathan Gardner (triple jump), Jeremy Greenwald (1,500 meters), and Nikita Kirillov (pole vault), in pursuing a national title at next week’s NCAAs at Hayward Field, on the campus of the University of Oregon, in Eugene. She’ll try her hand at both the long jump and the triple jump for the second time in her college career — she also did it in 2012 — but unlike in previous years, this time McKee will take the field with a confidence that comes with maturity and experience.

“This time around, I think I’m definitely a lot better and I really think I’m a strong competitor in both of those events,” the Marietta native, who will compete in the long jump on Wednesday then, after a day to rest up, go at the triple on Friday. “So I’m really excited to do both and I’m ready for it.

“I have definitely been a lot more confident in my potential and what I can do instead of being timid,” she added. “I’ve gotten a lot more aggressive in my training as well as competition. I have more of an understanding of the technical things for triple jump and long jump.”

You can add grit and toughness to that confidence.

McKee jumped on, undeterred, on an injured left ankle over the second half of the indoor season and throughout the outdoor season — she doesn’t remember when or how she hurt it. She already had right-ankle issues, for which she received a cortisone shot during the outdoor season so as to continue competing. Both ankles are finally starting to feel better.

She believes that mental toughness will be a factor next week.

“I am a little bit more focused and a lot more determined because I had a lot of injuries this year but I still kept pushing through,” she said. “I was really determined. I really wanted to go out with a bang my senior year. I’m still learning a lot of things. I’m still trying to compete, poised.”

Even with two sore ankles, McKee performed at the level to which Jackets fans have become accustomed. After the Florida Relays in early April, she had only one non-top-five finish in the triple jump and finished no lower than sixth in the long jump in four meets.

She saved her best for last, hitting a career-best 43’5.75″ in the triple jump at the NCAA East Preliminaries, while setting a season-best 20’6.25″ in the long jump, a little less than three inches off her career-best of 20’9″.

McKee, who earned USTFCCA Outdoor Honorable Mention All-America in 2013 (she was First-Team Indoors), sees Nationals as a chance to leave on top and earn another All-America honor…or two. Getting that one final chance to leave her mark in both events really does matter to her.

“It is very special just because I have other opportunities to get another All-American title,” said McKee. “I really don’t know if I’m going to compete after this year, so competing in long jump and triple jump this one last time at the National Meet is really special to me. I can’t be more grateful that this has happened to me.”

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