By Tom Rohrer
Like the traditional, All-American youth, Pierson tried a wide variety of complex sports. She eventually found out that her favorite was the simplest of all.
“I’ve always been running,” said Pierson, a soon to be senior at Capital High School. “That’s always been my favorite sport. I just always wanted to run.”
That passion has shaped Pierson into one of the top high school distance runners into the area and will lead the Cougars cross country team this fall as they will try to improve on back-to-back third place finishes at the 2A State Championships.
Pierson finished fifth individually at the state meet, posting a personal best time of 18:43.45 in the 5,000 meter final. The two time defending Evergreen League Champion and standing District IV champion is hoping to show a similar improvement as she did between her sophomore (tenth in state) and junior years.
“I think I became a more confident runner and I realized I didn’t need to shy away from being up front. I gained that edge,” said Pierson of her junior year. “Now, my pacing is a lot better. That’s something I’ve worked on a lot….you need to keep adding skills.”
Physically improving is only half the battle. On a talented and young team that will be without 2014 seniors Nicole and Hannah Hartman, Pierson will be expected to lead on the course and by example.
“I’ve focused more on the team aspect and being a leader. Everyone is going to be watching me and I need to be that leader that the team wants to follow,” said Pierson. “Increasing the confidence of the other girls increases my confidence and vice versa.”
Joining Pierson on the Cougar squad are returning state participants Kat Copland (sophomore, 21st in state), Peyton McGuin (senior, 26th) Sarah Paquet (sophomore, 49th) and Tae’lor Johnson (sophomore, 57th). The combination of experienced and youthful talent has Pierson feeling optimistic.
“Everybody works hard and everybody holds themselves accountable,” said Pierson, who trains six days a week. “It’s like a big functioning family. Everybody is pretty close and you pick up off that energy and confidence.”
Helping Pierson’s confidence even more is her performance during the 2014 spring track season. Pierson finished sixth in the mile at the 2A State Championship meet and took third in the 3200 meters (where she was league and district champion). While the season ended months before the upcoming start of cross country, Pierson can carry over some of the skills she added in the spring.
“I was getting passed a lot in the final 200 meters of races, so I’ve been working on speed stuff in flat areas. That helps a lot in cross country,” she said. “I can try out new racing techniques in track and carry them over to cross country. Plus, there is the competition. That keeps you fresh and ready to race under pressure.”
Guiding Pierson along the way has been longtime Capital girls cross country coach Kevin Wright. The lessons she’s picked up from Wright and his family will stay with Pierson the rest of her life.
“He taught me that just because the other teams or runners are doing something, it doesn’t mean you do too. If someone sprints out of the beginning or end, I don’t necessarily follow suit. I’m confident in my ability and my plan,” she said. “Both he and his wife (Danielle) are very caring and they do so much for our team and program. He shows that if you love something and care about it that you have to put all your effort into it. At some point you have to figure out what you love to do and work really hard at it.”
Pierson plans to run at the collegiate level following her June 2015 graduation. She has been in contact with schools from across the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain regions. Before taking that next step, Pierson is focused on her senior year, a prospect she cannot believe has already arrived.
“I have to start making life decisions on my own and that is really weird to think about,” she said. “It goes quick, so I’m appreciating all the time left with my teammates.”
Regardless of how her high school and collegiate career works out, Pierson is planning on always having her passion to fall back on.
“Running is so personal but at the same time so social. I’ve made so many friends from across the state and across the country,” she said. “But running is all in your head and you’re unique from other runners. That’s comforting, that you can just run and be yourself.”