CRANBERRY TWP — Joe Kearney found the net quite often over four years of playing soccer for North Catholic — 143 times, to be exact.
He found his niche in track and field, however.
The two-time WPIAL long jump champion has decided to continue his academic and track career at Penn State University.
“Soccer season's only been over a month or two and I miss it already,” said Kearney, a senior and a Wexford resident. “I'm going to continue to miss it.
“But track is the sport I've decided to focus upon.”
North Catholic has only had track and field for six years. Kearney becomes the first male from the program to accept a Division I scholarship. Rylee Kopchak — now at Wake Forest — is the only female to do so.
“I've coached soccer and track over the years and I've known Joe since grade school,” North Catholic track and field coach Stacy Kopchak said. “He's very athletic and has been a standout soccer player for years.
“Once he discovered how well he could jump, he really got into it.”
Kearney owns the WPIAL Class 2A record in the long jump at 23 feet, 5 inches. He set that mark last spring and hopes to break his own record this May.
He placed third at the PIAA Track and Field Championships this past season.
“My goal now is to be a three-time (WPIAL) champion and win at states,” Kearney said. “I run a leg of our 4x100 relay, too, and we want to get back there.”
Kearney also considered track offers from Duquesne and Pitt before deciding on Penn State. He carries a 4.38 grade point average and plans to study health policy in college.
He also considered soccer offers from Duquesne and Penn State Behrend.
“I didn't want to go too far from home and I love the big campus at Penn State and their tradition in track and field,” Kearney said. “They're among the best in the Big Ten and it's a good academic school.”
John Gondak has been Penn State's head track and field coach for six years. During his tenure, he has coached 50 first team All-Americans, 43 Big Ten champions and 62 Penn State record-setters.
The Nittany Lion men won the Big Ten championship in 2017. In 2018, Penn State was the only track program in the nation with its men's and women's teams both among the NCAA's Top 25.
“I have no doubt Joe can go on to big things there,” Kopchak said. “They will train him further and he will have great facilities to work with.
“We don't even have a track to practice on (at North Catholic). We have a makeshift track around the parking lot at school, that's it. We get down to Robert Morris University and practice on their track maybe once a week.
“When you start up a program, you have to build. That's what we're doing in terms of our facilities. It's a credit to Joe's talents and dedication that he's accomplished what he has,” Kopchak added.
Kearney said he just wants to “score points for the team” early in his college career and go from there.
“By the end of my career at Penn State, I hope I'm challenging for titles in the conference and maybe beyond,” he said. “I know it's going to take time.
“Maybe I can get on a relay or two eventually. But I'll be specializing in the long jump and I'm up for the challenge.”