In her four years as a member of the cross country team, Pierce earned second team All-GSC honors three times, competed in three NCAA Division II South Region meets and served as team captain of the Lady Statesmen this past season as a senior.
When she wasn’t leaving the competition in the dust on the course, she showed her smarts in the classroom. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration in May with a 3.86 grade-point average. Her academic work enabled her to be a part of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and the Delta Mu Delta National Business Honor Society. She honed her leadership skills by serving on the DSU Student Government Association, the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Leadership Team.
The Yazoo City native and Benton Academy graduate also made her presence known in the community of Cleveland by being a part of the DSU Pearman Elementary School Reading Project, the Crosstie 5K, the DSU Triathlon and the DSU Trunk or Treat.
Last week, Pierce’s hard work was rewarded in a big way as the Gulf South Conference chose her as their nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year. The NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced at a dinner in Indianapolis on Oct. 19.
The 22-year-old said hearing the news of the nomination was something she didn’t expect.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Pierce said. “I just worked really hard for four years. It’s not as easy a lot of people think being an athlete and a student. I can definitely say I was rewarded for all the work and effort I’ve put in those four years. It was definitely worth it. I thoroughly enjoyed my four years at Delta State. I would do it all over again if I could.”
Pierce said maintaining the workload between athletics, studies and participation in other organizations was a challenge to say the least.
“You have to be extremely organized and disciplined,” Pierce said. “Sometimes, you don’t really have the normal college experience, which I enjoyed running and all the activities a lot more. At nights, instead of going and having fun with the other college students, a lot of times I was in studying or going to sleep because I was waking up at 4:30 or 5 (in the morning) for practice.”
The 5-foot-4 student-athlete said failure in any way, shape or form has never been an option for her at DSU.
“I’m driven by success,” Pierce said. “I was just lucky to have the teachers at Delta State. Whenever I would make an A on a paper or do really well on some assignment they gave me, they would always praise me for it or say I did a great job or I did outstanding on this work. That was a huge motivator for me.
“My friends thought I was crazy for putting in all of those extra hours, but I got that recognition from my teachers. It meant a lot to me for them to recognize all my hard work. My teachers really motivated me.”
A person that made a huge impact on Pierce’s life at the school was Lady Statesmen head cross country coach Doug Pinkerton.
Pierce said Pinkerton pushed her and challenged her at every turn.
“I could not have asked for a better coach,” Pierce said. “He’s going to push you as far and as hard as he can, because he wants you to be the best you can be. Sometimes, it’s hard because you want to give up or you’re in that race and you’re to that point where you’re hurt and you want to quit. Then, you hear him yelling at you to go harder. In that moment, you might really hate him, but after you really appreciate it because you did more than what you ever thought you would be able to.”
Pierce said Pinkerton’s concern for his runners go beyond athletics.
“He cares about us as a person,” Pierce said. “He keeps up with us academically and he keeps up with our family life. He checks in and makes sure our parents are okay or makes sure everything is going alright. He’s like a father away from home.”
Pinkerton said Pierce’s dedication and drive makes her the epitome of what a leader and a student-athlete should be.
“Everyday in practice, she gives you a 100 percent,” Pinkerton said. “Even when she’s not feeling good, she would go as long as she could and her teammates knew she was going to be doing that everyday. Her being a leader in that aspect really helped our team.
“Academically, she was super strong. She was the type of person that gave her best at everything that she did. I just call her the mother of our team. She just really took care of everybody. She’s just a jewel to have.”
Pinkerton said Pierce has great faith in God and that all of her accolades are well deserved.
Pinkerton was pleasantly surprised when he heard about Pierce getting nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year.
“I was floored, excited, I had kind of gotten the chill bumps just thinking we might have one come out of our program,” Pinkerton said. “I would love to see her get something like that because of her effort, work and leadership. I think she’s had a huge impact on a lot of people. For us to even have a girl receive that type of recognition and be up for that type of award is unbelievable.”
Pierce said her family was especially pleased to see her get the nomination.
“They were happy for me and extremely proud,” Pierce said. “My freshman year was really hard coming into Delta State. With the changes that college brings, the classes were harder and putting in all the time running was extremely hard. Eventually, it got to that point where I had to decide am I going to continue running and continue with all of this stress or am I going to give up. They really stood behind me and encouraged me to stick it out. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Pierce is currently working fulltime as the Human Resource Director of Retzer Resources in Greenville and lives in Cleveland.
As far as her education, Pierce isn’t satisfied with just getting a bachelor’s degree. She will now work on getting her master’s degree at DSU in business management with a emphasis in human resources.