Soaring higher and higher with each vault, a determined Emily Presley ascended to new heights again and again.
And as she cleared bar after bar, the St. Clair High School junior achieved something more significant with each jump.
A new school record, a new Class 3 meet record and a state championship were all in a day’s work for Presley.
By clearing 12-6, Presley earned the gold medal in the girls pole vault at the 2014 MSHSAA Class 3 Track and Field Championships on Friday at Dwight T. Reed Stadium on the campus of Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
“I’m so excited,” Presley said moments after earning the state title. “I knew I could do it. I came here ranked third, but I knew I could go a lot higher than 10-6. I was really hoping for a new PR here. I did it, and I’m just so happy.”
St. Clair Girls Coach Katherine Ferguson said Presley definitely peaked at the right time.
“She’s been practicing very hard, and today was awesome,” Ferguson said. “I absolutely knew she had it in her. We wanted her to peak right here at state, and she did.”
It was a day to remember for Presley, who crushed her previous personal best vault of 11-6 by a foot as she topped the field with her record-breaking performance.
So what was Presley’s key to success?
“I’ve just been working hard at it,” Presley said. “And I usually jump with a 145 (pole) and I went up to a 155. It was just a matter of working at it and putting in the hard work.”
Ferguson said going up to a bigger pole allowed Presley to reach new heights.
“She’s finally gotten used to the bigger pole,” Ferguson said. “We’ve been focusing on that the last three weeks. That was the biggest difference for her.”
Presley added she owes a lot to vaulting coaches Jim and Kyle Juergens, the father and son duo who have worked with her for the last couple of years.
“They’re the best,” she said. “I love them.”
On Friday, Presley definitely finished strong in her signature event, putting it all together at the right time.
Presley cleared the first two heights she attempted rather easily, entering the competition at 10 feet. But she then missed an attempt at 10-6. She then cleared the height on her second vault. There were only three girls who managed to clear the bar at 10-6. All three remaining athletes also cleared the bar at 11 feet, and at 11-3, Presley failed on her first try, but got over the bar on her second attempt. The other two finalists got over the bar at 11-3 before Presley, and at that point, third place looked more realistic than a state title.
“I started off really bad,” Presley said of her day. “I wasn’t doing my full jump. I was kind of all over the place. But then everything just clicked.”
Yes it did. Simply put, Presley got in a groove.
She was the only vaulter to clear 11-6, securing the state championship. She cleared the bar on her first attempt, and then calmly watched as runner-up Georgia Richardson of Central Park Hills and third-place finisher Morgan Griffiths of St. Charles West failed to clear the bar on their three attempts.
With a big smile on her face, Presley headed over to the stands to acknowledge her coaches in a very brief celebration.
But she wasn’t done quite yet. Presley then cleared 11-9, setting a new school record. The old St. Clair High School record was 11-6, which Presley cleared at last year’s sectional.
With the crowd cheering her on, Presley then got over the bar at 12 feet on her third and final attempt.
Presley still wasn’t done. She then got over the bar at 12-6 to set a new girls Class 3 meet record. The previous record of 12-5 was set by Tara Diebold of Branson in 2007.
“I was about in tears,” Presley said of the moment she realized what she had accomplished. “I knew I could do it, but it was just a matter of actually doing it. It felt amazing.”
Presley then attempted to clear 12-10.25, which would have been a new state meet record regardless of class (Brittany Kallenberger of Lee’s Summit West cleared 12-10 in 2012 in Class 4). Presley wasn’t able to get over the bar, just missing on her final attempt.
“I think I could have broke the overall class record,” Presley said. “I was over it, but just nicked it.”
Still, Presley had several milestones to celebrate when the event concluded.
She soon found herself at the top of the awards podium. The gold medal was hers, along with the two new records.
“I got second last year, and this year I really wanted first,” she said. “I’m just so happy.”
Ferguson pointed out that Presley is just a junior. She’ll have a chance to defend her title next year. And she’ll have a shot at soaring even higher, too.
“Now she’s going to be working for something even bigger next year,” Ferguson said. “She wants the overall state record. She’s going for over 12-10 next year.”