With a background as a distance runner and four-year assistant coach for Westbrook track, Heather Pierce is prepared to build a history of excellence for the Knights.
The former Plainville runner and soccer player took her wisdom to Westbrook and became an assistant four years ago. Now she has risen to the next step this spring as head coach for the Knights' girls' outdoor track squad. After four seasons of learning the program and its mechanics, Heather is ready to meet challenges head-on as a mentor and leader.
"Knowing the kids as an assistant, it was an easy transition to come up to the head coaching spot," says the Middletown resident. "I enjoyed my time as an assistant as it taught me more about the sports of track and field and what were the best techniques for each event. As a distance runner, I learned more about jumping events and others to build up my knowledge and grab a better understanding."
Only halfway through her first campaign, the determined coach has the goal to build a tradition with the likes of seasoned Shoreline Conference schools. Heather is set to prove that it isn't about how long you've been in it, but instead, knowing how to push toward the pinnacle.
"I want to stay here as long as I can and develop a strong program for Shoreline and Class S championship meets," says Heather, whose Knights are in their ninth season as a program. "We have had up-and-down seasons the past few years so I would like to build consistency. We are in an extremely competitive conference with well-established teams like Haddam-Killingworth and Old Saybrook so, in a small school like here, it can be tricky fielding a team, but it's been great."
Coaching a sport that is built on both group and individual achievements, Heather takes away joy in watching her athletes benefit from track's uniqueness. As also a biology teacher at Westbrook, she finds rewards in seeing her student-competitors shine under different lights.
"You get to have athletes succeed on their own, but also see the team do well in track," Heather states. "The kids build confidence off of that and know they can help themselves and the team. As a teacher, I see students in both settings so it's great to see them succeed as well-rounded students. Plus it's great to watch when they have that 'a-ha' moment of realization and automatically grab success."
Knights' boys' track Head Coach Tim Marshall knows that, between Heather's devotion, growing expertise, and relation with the students, there was no one better suited.
"Heather has been valuable to us through all her years here. She went above and beyond with her assistant coaching duties and spent extra time towards the position," says Marshall. "She couldn't have been a better fit for head coach. She is great with the kids as a teacher and coach, which helped the kids come out to join the program. She has built up so much knowledge within the sport's events to the point where she is comfortable with any event now."
Developing a blueprint in moving from assistant to head honcho, Heather desires the opportunity to give everyone a chance to represent. Yet she also has the mindset to create a disciplined, but enjoyable and educational atmosphere.
"I want to give every athlete the chance to succeed, which you can do for track," Heather says. "I want to be a firm coach, but also make it enjoyable. You need to make it fun and also have them learn leadership skills that will help after track is done. You need to have those skills to carry for the rest of your life."
And though Heather initially saw this as a rebuilding year after many seniors graduated, the Knights are making a strong second-half push in earning as many possible members for the postseason.
"We have some growing to do and we are hoping for a successful showing at Shorelines with good performances," says Heather, who thanks fellow Knights' track coach Tim Marshall and former Westbrook coach Brent Ali. "It's halfway through the season so we are trying to get as many as we can qualified for the conference and state championship meets."