Speed and Strength … in One Small Package

by Joe Seil

There is no rhyme or reason sometimes. Collegiate track and field teams boast athletes of all shapes and sizes. There are the skinny middle distance runners with the spindly legs who can negotiate the 400-meter oval in less than 50 seconds; there are 250-plus-pound blocks of granite who can heave heavy metal objects through the air with the greatest of ease. Then there are athletes like Nazareth’s Taylor Pierson ’16, whose speed and power belie her 5-foot-4 frame and enable her to jump farther than most at the Division III level.

Pierson entered Nazareth’s track and field season in January as a four-time national meet qualifier in the long jump—twice indoors and twice outdoors—with a quest to improve upon the distances to which she has previously soared. She became the Golden Flyers’ first-ever female track and field All-American in spring 2013 by placing eighth at the NCAA meet at Wisconsin-LaCrosse. She duplicated that honor during the 2014 indoor season, this time placing fifth at the NCAA meet at Nebraska Wesleyan.

“It’s something that you have to want to do,” says Pierson, a native of Wellsburg, N.Y., a short jog south of Elmira. “You need to be motivated and you have to be okay with getting criticized.”

Pierson describes as “constructive” the scrutiny she receives from Nazareth Coach James Goss, now in his fourth season at Nazareth. Goss, himself a former national champion long jumper during his college days at Lynchburg, is also complimentary of Pierson’s overall methodology that has enabled her to ascend to a level of competitiveness that she didn’t envision. As the 2015 season unfolded, she had her sights set on jumping 19 feet, a distance that would likely assure her All-American status and possibly elevate her to national championship prominence.

“She’s deceptively strong and she’s always been fast,” says Goss. “She’s gotten a lot stronger since she’s been here and she has the discipline and self-motivation to be great.”

“It’s been really exciting,” Pierson says, “but really just going to nationals is an accomplishment in itself. I don’t think I ever saw myself doing that.”

Pierson, a psychology major at Nazareth, played basketball and volleyball through middle school, but scrapped those sports in favor of indoor track when she started high school.

After a distinguished high school career that included a sixth-place finish at the state meet in 2012 and the support system of her parents Shawn and Patricia, she chose to attend Nazareth—“It’s been a good fit,” she says—and entered the 2015 season as the school record holder in the long jump both indoors and outdoors, the 60- and 100-meter dashes, and three relays.

In addition to the physical challenges of competing, Pierson processes a mental check list before each jump. She thinks about her footwork, taking eight strides, the last three of which “need to be really quick.” She thinks about hitting the take-off board flat-footed, then “rising up in the air, arms and legs doing different things. Throwing that all together and hoping for a good jump.”

“She’s had a huge impact,” says Goss, whose men’s and women’s teams have improved steadily since his arrival. “Her success has helped us spread the word about our program.”

Joe Seil is the assistant athletic director and sports information director at Nazareth.

Taylor Pierson

Taylor Pierson '16

For more sports stories, visit athletics.naz.edu.