Maryville, Mo. —
After learning of their interest in track and field, Maryville assistant coach Michael Klaus wanted to know early on whether siblings Derek and Jessa Stiens would be willing to give pole vaulting a try.
He approached both about the idea when they were still in eighth grade trying to decide which events to pursue in high school.
Brother and sister agreed to give it a shot, and in the four years since, they’ve spent countless spring hours training with Klaus on the north side of Maryville’s football stadium.
All their hard work and dedication was rewarded at Saturday’s Class 3 Sectional 4 Meet in Blue Springs when both qualified for state in the pole vault with fourth place finishes.
It marked the first time in Klaus’ seven years as a coach that two of his vaulters made it to state in the same year.
The fact that they’re brother and sister made it all the more unique and special.
“It’s really neat,” said Jessa Stiens. “We’ve been in this since day one when coach Klaus recruited us. It’s just fun. We’ve helped each other out. I owe a lot to him helping me with stuff. It’s just neat we get to experience that together, too.”
Both seniors, Derek and Jessa are set to make their third appearance at the Class 3-4 State Championship Meet in Jefferson City this weekend. This is the first time they will both be competing in the pole vault.
Derek has gone to state in the pole vault each of the last two years and medaled both times, while Jessa was a member of two state medal-winning 4 x 400M relays.
They are carrying on a legacy left by older sister Jordan Stiens who is one of the best track and field athletes in Maryville history.
She captured 11 state medals during her Spoofhound track career and was a two-time state champion in the long jump. She is now a sophomore heptathlete at the University of Nebraska.
A 2010 MHS graduate, Jordan won her second state title the same year Derek and Jessa were freshmen.
Then emerging prospects, they have since developed into two of the best vaulters in the area under the tutelage of Klaus.
Jessa started as a 6-6 vaulter and just cleared 9-9 for the first time in her career Saturday. Derek was clearing 12-0 as a freshman and has gone as high 14-0 this year. Normally in the 13-6 range, Stiens qualified for state with a height of 12-9.
“Jessa has come a long way,” said Klaus. “She was very timid and that’s a big problem with girls, getting over the fear. She got some confidence and took off. Derek from the get-go I knew was going to be something special. He started off as a 12-0 vaulter with no previous experience. Two feet may not seem like much, but that’s a big gap in high school pole vaulting.”
A three-sport athlete, Derek first reached the state meet as a sophomore and finished sixth. He backed that up with a fifth place finish as a junior.
Jessa, a three-time All-MEC selection in volleyball, had only been a sectional qualifier in the pole vault until this year.
A three-seed, Stiens lived dangerously Saturday, missing on two attempts at 8-9, but cleared the third one to stay alive.
An ensuing jump of 9-9 assured her of a spot in the field at state.
“That was a special moment for me,” said Klaus. “Girls pole vaulting is very difficult in our area. There’s an ex-professional pole vaulting coach in Excelsior Springs that’s coached a lot of very talented athletes. He has more girls than boys. For us to beat some of those kids, it’s fantastic.”
The state meet will be the final one in the careers of both current Stiens athletes.
Neither one is projected to medal at state based on their seeds, but Klaus is optimistic both will.
Derek is seeded only 14th but his top clearance of 14-0 would put him in the top five. Jessa, who will also compete in the 4 x 400M relay, is seeded 10th and likely needs to add a few inches to her top height to move into the top eight.
“I believe Derek should be in the top four,” said Klaus. “We struggled a little bit on Saturday in some technical aspects, but we’ve got (three days) to iron that out. If Jessa can get to 10 feet, it would put her on the record list and we’ll be on the medal stand. That’s kind of our goal for her.