• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Keenon Laine reached new heights at WKU

BACK WHERE IT BEGAN. On Monday, June 20, Keenon Laine, a former track athlete at Woodford County High School and currently a freshman high jumper at Western Kentucky University, finished eighth at the NCAA Track & Field Championships in the high jump on June 10. (Photo by Rick Capone)

Anyone who watched Keenon Laine perform in the high jump during his senior season at Woodford County High School in 2015 saw the potential he had in the sport. Now, after his freshman season at Western Kentucky University, he not only showed that potential, but he took it to the next level, as he finished in a tie for eight place at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 10. On Monday, June 20, Keenon returned to his old high jumping grounds at WCHS, accompanied by his mother, Komicsa, to talk about his freshman year at WKU. A few inches taller, Keenon is still the same friendly, humble, mature, polite young man that he was while attending high school, only now he jumps about three-inches higher, has an NCAA medal and, most importantly, a 3.0 GPA after just one year of college. Keenon left WCHS holding the all-time record for a high jump of 6-ft., 10.5-ins., which he set at the Lake Cumberland Classic Invitational on April 18, 2015. After arriving at WKU for his freshman season, things changed very fast in terms of his training and technical approach to the high jump. Under assistant coach Domenic Reno, Keenon learned a new approach to strength training and conditioning. “At Western, we’ve got a preseason called ‘Red October,’” said Keenon. “It’s like the craziest month that you could think of. Especially, just straight training, just straight conditioning the whole time, and weightlifting. The weight-lift program at Western is insanely good. It helps you with everything that you need. I can’t tell you how much I went up in weight in squatting; it’s just crazy. “The training here (at WCHS), it’s like, okay, we’re going to push you into what you would like to do and everything and try to train you up a little bit as much as we can here. But when you train in a college, they’re making it for your event that you’re good in. (A) specific weight program for your body weight will get you to where you want to be, to be how good you want to be, in that event at the same time.” Then there was Coach Jarrett Murphy, who helped him with the technical aspects of his approach to the high jump. “Coach Murphy, he was my high jump coach,” said Keenon. “He brought me a long, long way with my form and everything. Like trying to get my head back so I could like get the perfect arch, and snapping at the right time where I just get my legs up so they don’t hit the bar or anything like that. He’s been like the most help to me with my high jump career. Definitely, I can say that.” Keenon’s first athletic competition came during the indoor season, where he did suffer some shin splints. Then when the outdoor season began, he was healthy and ready to go. However, he did not do as well as he had hoped to do in his first meet. “Coming from indoor, I had a certain height that I wanted to reach,” said Keenon. “And the first meet, I didn’t do so well. So, I was like, ‘Dang. So I just got to train, got to train, got to train.’” And train he did. A few meets into the season at the Austin Peay Invitational on April 16, Keenon set a new WKU record in the high jump when he cleared 7-ft., 2.61-ins. (2.20 meters). “…At Austin Peay, I jumped 2.20 (meters) and broke the school record and everything, which… that was just crazy,” he said. “It was like a dream come true. Like you’ve got your record. Your name’s in the books now. So, nobody can take that away from you. That means a lot too.” Keenon’s improvement continued the rest of the season, which led to his fifth-place finish at the NCAA Track & Field East Regional, May 26 to 28, in Jacksonville, Fla. At the East Regional, Keenon said he kept his focus by telling himself, “… Just stay with (Eastern Carolina’s) Avion Jones (the winner), because Avion had the highest jump coming in. I said, ‘just copy him and stay with him; you stay with him, you’ll be good, and you’ll automatically go to the NCAAs.’ So, I was like, keep doing that, keep doing that; I’ve just got to keep pushing, keep pushing, and I got there.’ And, I was like, ‘I did it ma, I did it.’” With that fifth-place finish, Keenon qualified, along with some of his WKU teammates, for the NCAA Track & Field Championships, which were held June 7 to 10 in Eugene, Ore. In doing so, he became the first WKU athlete to qualify for the finals in the high jump. “That atmosphere (in Eugene, Ore.) is just insane,” said Keenon. “Tracktown, USA. Just everybody there loves track. (Someone would ask) …’You run track? Wow, that’s crazy.’ I was like, dang! I said, ‘If every place in the United States can be like that, it would be a beautiful place to live.’ “Just being there is just like home for real because everybody is congratulating you because you made it this far. Everybody here is good. So, it was just going to be the best out of everybody. So, it’s a nice place, just nice. It’s really nice.” Keenon went into high jump competition with a set goal, which he achieved. “I just (told myself), I’m going to try to go out there and just at least get eighth,” said Keenon. “And, I got what I wanted to get.” Laine finished the event against 24 other athletes with a best jump of 7-ft., 2.22-ins. (2.19 meters); just a meter shy of his WKU school record. For his efforts, he earned First Team All-American honors as well. “Keenon has really developed in our program,” WKU head coach Erik Jenkins said. “Coach (Jarrett) Murphy has done a good job of bringing him along technically and Coach (Domenic) Reno has done the same in the weight room. I am very happy with his performance at the national championships.” It was a great achievement not just for Keenon, but also for his mom. “It’s really an out of body experience,” said Komicsa. “To finally see him put his mind towards something that he enjoys and to see him make so many tremendous accomplishments his first year out of the box, it’s really an out of body experience to see him do it. And I’ve been very fortunate to seeing it the entire way. So I’m very proud of the athlete and the student-athlete that he has come to be. We just want him to continue to be humble and always be appreciative to God for his talent.” Keenon’s achievements were also noted back home in Versailles by his former track head coach, Tracey Sobolewski. “Keenon has only just begun,” said Sobolewski, who watched the entire high jump competition on television. “It was so exciting to watch him in the NCAA championships. Our WCHS Track & Field Team will for sure continue to follow his college career.” In addition to his athletic achievements, Keenon also concentrated on his studies, and finished his freshman year with a 3.0 GPA. He knows that his education is important for his future. “If anybody knows Keenon and my relationship, I am doubly as hard on him about his education than I am with his athleticism,” said Komicsa. “Education is something that someone cannot take from you. You can go out and sprain an ankle or twist a knee, and then you have to recoup. With your mind, you can keep moving forward no matter what goes on. And, that’s what’s important. Keenon’s major is criminology, with a minor in legal studies. He hopes to become a lawyer one day. As to how he balances his academic and athletics, he said, “You’ve just got to put academics number one. … You’ve just got to make sure you get (that) done first, because, once you get (that) done first, then everything will fall in place perfectly. If you do good in school, wow, okay, great. That means you’re going to do good in athletics because you’ve got the mindset of where you can study and then you can just study your athletics and make sure you can do good in that. Then, afterwards, after you complete all that, then you can just go hang out with your friends with the time you have left over. But, if not, you can just get your best in and be prepared for the next day.” Now, with his freshman season behind him, both in the classroom and on the track, along with all of his accomplishments, what is next for Keenon? How does he keep focused and make sure that his early success doesn’t, as they say, “go to his head?” “I guess, stay humble,” he said. “I mean, anything can happen to where it takes it all away. You’ve just got to make sure that you do the training, stay focused, and don’t get too big headed about what you just did. Because there’s other people that can do that. You’ve just got to make sure that you be the best out of those people.”

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