On the surface, the Lady Pirates' third consecutive outdoor title and 11th in 13 years came easily. They scored 154.5 points, nearly doubling runner-up Norfolk State (79) at last week's meet in Greensboro, N.C.
But the championship was a result of superior depth, standout individual performances and renewed commitment on the meet's final day.
"It was a dogfight the first two days," said Pierce, the director of track and field for men and women. "We did all the biting on Saturday and the fight was over."
HU sophomore Ce'aira Brown was named the meet's outstanding performer after winning the 800 and 1,500 meters and running a leg on the first-place 4x400 relay team.
The Lady Pirates traditionally rely on their short sprinters and jumpers, but piled up points this year in the 400, 800 and 1,500. Brown and senior Cydney Robinson finished 1-2 in the 800 and 1,500, while Malekah Holland and Le'Quisha Parker went 1-2 in the 400.
HU totaled 60 points in those three races alone. Senior Breana Norman won her third consecutive 100-meter hurdles title and ran a leg on the winning 4x100-meter relay team, accounting for another 20 points.
"Sprints are still the foundation," Pierce said, "but we've been blessed over the last two or three years to have some good milers and half-milers. I think that's a weakness in the conference that we've tried to take advantage of.
"We're always going to have sprinters, but we've tried to become a more well-balanced team. You're too one-dimensional if all you have is sprinters. When you go to big meets, you better hope you have the best group of sprinters and hope that none of them gets hurt."
Holland and Parker each ran a leg on the 1,600 relay. Parker also ran a leg on the 400 relay and finished third in the 200. In addition to winning the 100 hurdles, Norman ran a leg on the 400 relay, finished fourth in the high jump and fifth at 100 meters.
Versatile Teiara Denmark accounted for 19 points, finishing second in the triple jump, third in the long jump and fourth in the heptathlon, in addition to running a leg on the 400 relay.
Pierce didn't feel comfortable about the Lady Pirates' position until well into Saturday's finals. He said that on Thursday and Friday, too many athletes appeared to be "going through the motions" and didn't perform up to standards, prompting a serious message.
"I told them they weren't upholding the tradition of the program," he said. "It was like they took for granted winning so many championships and another one was going to be given to us. I told them unless they raised the bar, I was going to make some changes. Everybody read between the lines, and the seniors grabbed some of the underclassmen by the collar and let them know what was expected and set an example."
"We've won so many championships and I think the girls got comfortable," Pierce said. "They said, once we get to the next day, we'll be fine. If we have a bad day Friday, we'll be fine on Saturday. They had to be reminded that you can't get complacent or comfortable, that you have to keep fighting every day."
Pierce, who has coached elite sprinters such as Francena McCorory and Yvette Lewis as well as a slew of conference champions and national qualifiers, is sold on fielding deeper teams with middle-distance and distance runners.
"The coaches are on me all the time now, that we need more milers," he said. "I've got to go get some."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.