Senior Spotlight: Never-give-up attitude defined career of Ocean City defender Megan KeenanBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Ocean City High School is well known for the strength of its girls sports teams. The field hockey team routinely competes for state championships. The basketball team won a South Jersey title this past winter, and the lacrosse squad took home the Cape-Atlantic League championship. Track, cross country, tennis, diving, softball, swimming, soccer — all strong programs.
That means if you’re a female athlete at Ocean City, chances are you are going to be on a very competitive team. But it also means the school is full of great athletes, and you have to fight hard for playing time.
Megan Keenan worked her way up through freshman and junior varsity teams in two sports, field hockey and lacrosse, and didn’t secure a full-time starting position in field hockey until her senior year. Hers is a story of persistence and patience, and the willingness to do whatever it took to get onto the field and make an impact.
When she finally did get to become a starter in field hockey, Keenan — who also was one of the best divers in the school during her athletic career — helped lead the Red Raiders to their second Group 3 state championship in the last four years. Ocean City beat Warren Hills, a team that had beaten them two years in a row in the state final, 5-0 in November. Keenan and the rest of the defense shut out one of the best teams in New Jersey.
“That’s always something that I wanted to do. I went through freshman and JV just to work all the way up to that point in my life. It’s very rewarding when you start, literally, from the bottom and work all the way up to the top,” said Keenan, who plans to continue her studies at St. Joseph’s University this fall. “When I was a freshman, I played midfield, but I liked defense. I like holding the fort down in the back. You can’t win games without having a good defense.”
“Last year, as a junior, she started seeing significant varsity time, and this year she earned herself a starting position on our defense. Her junior year, she was working her way up and on the cusp (of being a starter). What I think set her apart was her positive attitude and her work ethic. She’s the quintessential team player, very positive and very upbeat. She was really just willing to do whatever she needed to do to earn a starting spot, and she did,” said former field hockey coach Cory Terry, who stepped down following the 2016 season. “This senior group was very talented. Her junior year, she started coming into her own and started gaining confidence the more playing time she got on the varsity level, and that was very important for this year. The confidence was a factor. I thought she did a great job this year stepping in and owning her spot.”
Being a defender on the Ocean City field hockey team isn’t easy, simply because you spend most of the regular season with not much to do. The Red Raiders routinely rip through their Cape-Atlantic League schedule and gave up only a handful of goals to CAL teams the past four years. But then, when the competition heats up in the state playoffs, that defensive unit is asked to step up in a big way.
“It is tough, because besides nonconference games, our defense wasn’t challenged consistently. But when you are a talented team and you don’t spend a lot of time in your defensive end, it’s easy to take a step back because you’re not constantly being challenged,” Terry said. “But Megan is one of those players whose skill, work ethic and ability kept growing. She never took a step back. She tried to get better each game.”
“Megan was one of our strongest defenders. She worked her way up through freshman and JV before she got to varsity, and it showed. Her skills improved so much. She was a vital piece for us. She stepped up and that’s what made us so successful our junior and senior years,” said Rialee Allen a fellow senior and teammate on both the field hockey and lacrosse teams. “You need somebody who isn’t afraid to tell you what you are doing wrong, but she didn’t do it in a mean way. Never once has she made me uncomfortable in that way. But when she tells you what to do, you know she is right because she can see everything from the backfield.”
Keenan never dove into field hockey full-time because she has so many other interests. She’s a diver during the winter and a member of the lacrosse team in the spring. She’s also won several local pageants, and plans to study nursing in college.
“She is so multi-faceted. She’s really involved in dance and lacrosse. She’s always been a very positive person in all the extra-curricular activities we did, like our team dinners or working the water table for the half marathon,” Terry said. “She’s always been very positive, spunky and outgoing. It’s not surprising she won those pageants. She has that total package aspect about her.”
But even though her varied interests didn’t allow her to be a field hockey player all year long, when she was playing field hockey she gave it all she had, and that helped her gain the respect of her teammates.
“That’s the biggest thing. I’ve never met a more determined person. Most people, if they are not playing up (on varsity) they want to quit or they don’t think they are good enough and they get down on themselves. But Megan kept pushing through, and you don’t find that in everyone. You’re born with the heart that you have. You have to want to work hard to be on that field, and that was noticeable with Megan,” Allen said. “Senior year, when we got on that field for the state championship game, everybody showed up — especially Megan and the rest of the defense. We knew (Warren Hills) had a strong offense and we needed everyone to step up, and over the course of four years it showed how much everyone came together.”
Coach Terry was notoriously tough on her players during her time in charge of the field hockey program, but Keenan responded to her demanding coaching style, gaining confidence the more the Ocean City coaching staff pushed her to reach her potential.
“I love coach Terry. We wouldn’t be as good as we were without her. She was always involved with every player. She liked offense, but she would always be yelling at me for something. But she just wanted me to be confident in myself, because I was always a little bit down on myself all the time, thinking I couldn’t do it. All the coaches always had my back and wanted me to keep pushing because they knew I had some potential,” Keenan said. “Being in field hockey set me up for the rest of my sports with having intensity and having the right mindset. I would dive whenever I could, but field hockey was the best thing that ever happened to me. That will set me up for the rest of my life, just having a good work ethic and being strong.”
Keenan’s athletic career might have come to an end, and she said she’s going to miss Ocean City High School. But that memory of being a player who worked hard to contribute to winning a state championship will live on in her mind for a long time, she said.
“I loved Ocean City. It’s going to be sad to go, because we have the life here,” she said. “Winning states was so exciting, and I got to do it with the best teammates I could ever ask for.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays