Pierce an earful, but a CC stud

David La

Gophers cross-country runner Eric Pierce succeeds in competition and raises eyebrows in society for the same reason: He refuses to run with the crowd.
Coming off a track season last spring that saw him win the 5,000-meter run at the Drake Relays as well as the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Big Ten Championships, Pierce is primed for a cross-country season that mirrors his track record.
“I think psychologically it will help me a lot,” Pierce said of his track accomplishments. “I’ll go to the Big Ten meet and hear all the names and think, ‘Well, I took them all down in track so I don’t see why I can’t in cross country.'”
While coaches and teammates take their hats off to Pierce for his competitive demeanor, it’s the number of hats Pierce figuratively wears away from the sport that makes them shake their heads.
“One quarter he was dressed on the ‘grunge’ side, the next quarter he decides that he’s going to class wearing a tie every day,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “He just decided for that quarter to be somebody else and just went about doing it.
“You can’t pin him down.”
While putting a finger on Pierce might prove difficult, putting hands around his throat was once the desire of some of his high school teammates at Forest Lake, Minn.
“On the bus ride to the regional meet our senior year he just about got mauled by the rest of the track team,” said high school and college teammate Mark Fahey. “For about an hour and a half straight he sat there and sang, ‘I know a song that everybody hates’ and just kept repeating it.
“We threatened to stick him out the top of the bus.”
Other legendary tales of Pierce’s high school shenanigans include making small campfires at track meets, a charge Pierce does not deny.
But songs around the campfire aside, Pierce is being touted by Plasencia as a cross-country All-American in waiting, and is confident that Pierce will continue to push himself to that level.
“I think Eric Pierce has been poised on the edge of being an All-American in cross-country for the last couple of years,” Plasencia said. “I think with him, he should be my first All-American. I think that’s enough said.”
Like former eccentric Washington Redskins running back John Riggins, Pierce leaves questions day to day about what he will look like when he shows up. But no one questions that he will be ready to go once he gets there.
“He is not afraid to go after it,” Plasencia said, “to dig down and put himself into a world of hurt that scares other people, and that’s what makes him good.”

Women’s cross country
The women’s team gets its 1999 season underway Friday when it holds the annual Intrasquad Meet. The race begins at 4 p.m. at the University-Les Bolstad Cross Country Course on the St. Paul campus.