There was a time where Daire Stelljes thought she would be running track and field in college. Then, the West Platte graduate thought volleyball was going to be the way to go and decided on Pittsburg State.
Finally, Stelljes changed her mind again and will now run for the Northwest Missouri State Track and Field team.
What makes that move ironic was the fact she swore off track and field after competing as a freshman at West Platte and getting hurt. An avid club volleyball player, she saw her future in that sport. But watching her brother, Drake, practice for the Pony Express Track Club got her thinking.
Coach Danny Butterfield urged Daire to give it another try despite her fears she would hurt her hip again. Before you knew it, she was practicing high jump for the AAU program.
Her addition to the track and field team for the Bluejays was an added boost for not only the high jump, but her efforts in the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays were key for a team that won the Class 2 championship. She also competed in the long jump a few times.
“I fell back in love with it (track),” she said. “I was terrified I’d get hurt but we ended up having a successful season and we moved onto state in the relays.
“I was young and scared and I didn’t understand the team aspect. I’m kind of a nerd with numbers and in competition, you have to beat this person and our team was good enough. We all supported each other and needed each other to get points.”
The 4x100-meter team took second place, earning the Bluejays eight key points in the hunt for a second straight title, albeit in a new class.
In the high jump, Stelljes tied the school record with a height of 5 feet. She opened the year jumping 4-8 and 4-10 and continued to improve. She noted she wishes she hadn’t taken those two years off of track.
“She is an athletically gifted athlete that is just learning technique,” said Butterfield. “She is a diamond in the rough. Someone as green as she is … the athletic and genetic potential, I saw right off the bat. You either have it or you don’t and I saw her ability and that is when I decided to convince her she should go out for track and plus move onto the next level with all the coaches I know.”
Stelljes had options to run track and field at Graceland and Missouri Western as well as her option to play volleyball at Pittsburg State.
She headed up to Maryville on Sept. 3 to start her career as a Bearcat, where she will major in special education and minor in Spanish. She has been running four days a week and lifting three days a week to get ready for the season.
There is a chance she could compete in the multi-events for the Bearcats, which would be the 100-meter hurdles, shot put, javelin, 200-meter dash, 800-meter run, long jump and high jump. She was throwing 95 to 100 feet in the javelin, but the team needed her in other events.
“I don’t know how to feel,” Stelljes said. “It’s exciting to be in the best shape of your life, but you are scared to be a freshman again.”
A technical-driven coach, Butterfield has worked with athletes from 22 different schools with a majority in northwest Missouri State. Along with athletes from West Platte, he works with some from North Platte and holds practices at Mid-Buchanan High School in Faucett.
Of the seven seniors that practiced with the Pony Express program, five of them are headed to college. In addition to Stelljes, other runners are going to Missouri, Missouri Western and Texas Tech.
Butterfield, who resides in St. Joseph, gave up his construction job to focus on being a full-time track and field coach.
Most of the interest in his training processes were by word of mouth or social media, but it has now grown to other states. Butterfield has one athlete that drives seven hours, one way, from southwest Oklahoma to practice with him. Another lives near Springfield and makes the four-hour trek.
“If you are doing work outside track, if you ask me, it shows that a lot of the kids are doing better,” Butterfield said.
Dozens of his athletes have earned scholarships and this year two of his track members Brooklyn Miller (St. Joseph Christian) and Marissa Jensen (Stanberry) won state track and field championships.
Butterfield was an assistant at Christian under the late John Chavez, a legend in the St. Joseph community. Butterfield brought back the Pony Express Track Club that Chavez once started and has been working on helping the area runners, jumpers and throwers.
“There is not enough technical info out there given to the kids, it is more conditioning,” Butterfield said.
He doesn’t say that as a slight to high school coaches. Many teams have upwards of 50 to 75 athletes and with only a handful of coaches — if that many — it is hard for one coach to help multiple athletes specialize in many events.
“Coaches can’t focus on the proper skills,” he said. “Kids are pushed to work out and there is a lot of self work.”
His work in the sport recently allowed Butterfield to be hired as an ‘elite coach’ at HyVee Arena, where he will work with a sports performance group.