Competitive is the best way to describe Dalton and Jaelyn Keene, the brother and sister act that is playing out its final season at Illinois State.
Both are standout athletes—Dalton in football and Jaelyn in volleyball—who have helped their respective teams to Missouri Valley Conference titles while also garnering individual all-conference and academic honors along the way.
“They’ve always been very competitive with each other,” said mother Rose Keene. “Growing up the household was very competitive. To get them to bed at night we would have them run up the stairs to see who could get there first. Everything was competitive from Day 1.”
“I remember when we were going to our elementary school, we’d try to race to see who would get there first,” echoed Dalton. “We always tried to get ahead of one another and I think it helped us in athletics growing up.”
Despite their competitiveness, Rose Keene said the two are and always have been very close.
“They really support each other,” she said. “I think part of it being good is that one is a boy and one is a girl. They didn’t have to compete against each other on the field and follow in anybody’s footsteps. It wasn’t boy against boy or girl against girl, so they didn’t have to live up to each other’s expectations. Being of the opposite gender was a real positive.”
But they do have their differences, according to Rose, who calls herself “one proud momma.”
“Jaelyn will work her tail off in anything,” she continued. “Dalton sometimes will cruise through just enough to get by. He wants the A, but Jaelyn’s not happy unless she gets the A+. That’s probably the biggest difference.”
So who’s the better athlete of the two Jacksonville High School products?
“Him,” says Jaelyn, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, without hesitation.
“I’d say both of us are. I don’t know who has a step up,” Dalton, a 6-4 defensive lineman, chimes in. “Obviously, we play way different sports, but I see the same drive in her that I have when I play. There are times she goes far beyond what I have done.
“I get told a lot that the best athlete in the family is my sister. Whether that’s true or not, we’ll figure it out one day. But most of the time we agree to it because she moves very well for a girl as tall as she is. She is extremely athletic and strong.”
“I don’t know that I would give it all to me,” Jaelyn added. “That’s kind of the joke, but I wouldn’t say I’m the better athlete. I’d say it’s a close tie. We’ve been pretty competitive throughout our years when we lived at home. We played so many sports in our backyard against each other. If we didn’t have that competitiveness, I don’t think we would be as far as we are now and as successful as we are now.”
Dalton is 15 months older than Jaelyn and both will graduate this year because Dalton sat out his freshman year as a redshirt. And both are glad they ended up at the same school.
“I love her to death and can’t say a bad word about her,” said Dalton. “I’m glad we’re at the same university and being successful. You couldn’t ask for more. But I want to make it clear she didn’t follow me here. She did her own thing. We have the same last name, but she has her own career and I have mine. She’s done all of this on her own. We’re proud of each other, but it’s our own individual journey at the same place.”
“It’s cool we are at the same university because we get to see each other more times than not,” said Jaelyn. “After the tough losses we’re always there for each other. We try to keep each other’s spirits up and our parents (Steve and Rose) can come and watch us on the same weekend at times. Our choice to come here was one of our best choices."
And they’re each other’s biggest fans, right?
“That’s probably mom and dad, but behind them I’d say most definitely,” added Dalton.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with the Keenes:
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in Central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.