There was a time not so long ago when Jessica Haney preferred the spotlight of dance and theater. That’s how the Lee’s Summit West senior spent her extracurricular time… and that all changed one afternoon in middle school gym class.
Haney made her way to the high jump pit, and gave it a go.
“As soon as I tried, it, the teacher was like ‘You need to do that,’” Haney said with a laugh. “I went out for the track team, which was completely weird to my parents.”
It turns out high jumping was in Haney’s blood. Her mother, Lisa, jumped in college at Eastern Oklahoma University. And it didn’t take long for Haney to learn that her gym teacher’s instinct was spot-on.
“I think it might have been when I broke the middle school record in the high jump. Before I started, it as 4-8 or something. When I finally jumped 5-0 for the first time, I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I could do something with this.’”
Haney embarks on her senior season as a three-time defending Missouri Class 5 high jump champion. Each of those gold medals contributed to the Lee’s Summit West girls winning three consecutive state track and field championships.
The transition from middle school to high school can be difficult in many aspects, including athletically. But it didn’t take long for Titans coach Jesse Griffin to realize Haney’s talent.
“I believe her freshman year at Kansas Relays was her first big meet, and she finished fourth,” Griffin said. “Several states are represented at that meet. Then she won the state meet her freshman year, which is very difficult to do. That solidified the thoughts we had, and she was in a battle that year to win and she came through.”
Failure isn’t a familiar concept to Haney when she stares down the bar. High jump is one of the more technical field events. If the mechanics of the approach don’t precisely come together, failure is all but assured.
It’s in those instances when Haney relies on her dance background.
“Going through dance for however many years I was, I was really good at being coachable. I could try new things and pick up stuff faster than other people could,” Haney said. “That’s why I’ve had the success I’ve had. I can fix my approach and can change specific things about my approach if I need to.”
Griffin has seen Haney right the ship on more than one occasion.
“She figures out and adjusts about as well as I’ve ever seen any athlete adjust, and I’ve been coaching for 23 years at the collegiate and high school levels. She finds a way to get things done,” Griffin said.
Lee’s Summit West will once again compete against regional competition at the Kansas Relays. Before that, however, the Titans will test themselves against national talent at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational.
“When the athletes are at that level, we’ll take them. It presents a challenge, and keeps them from being complacent. It’s really helped her focus on what we’re trying to do and work toward, and for her, continue to get better.”
The goals for Haney’s senior year are obvious: There’s one more high jump and team title to win. She’d also like to bump her personal record to 6-0 from the current mark of 5-9 before she graduates. Haney plans to jump in college, but she isn’t sure where yet.
Beyond that, she just wants to enjoy the ride.
“We’ve had good seniors every single year, and that’s why we’ve done so well. One of my goals is continuing that legacy and helping the girls younger than me build up their strengths, so they can do the same things once I’m gone,” Haney said.
With a little bit of luck, Haney will leave a legacy that can be tied, but not broken.