LINCOLN — When Tierra Williams finally gave in to the nudges from her Nebraska track and field coaches to try the triple jump, her first reaction was familiar for newcomers to the event.
The multiple impacts and the highly technical nature of the triple jump can take a toll on the body, leaving the athlete more likely to limp away from the jump pit than climb the medal stand.
“The poorer you are mechanically or technically on it, the more you get banged up in that event and can get hurt in it,” NU coach Gary Pepin said.
Like some of Pepin’s past triple jumpers, Williams had to be somewhat cajoled into trying the event, but her results in last weekend’s season-opening Holiday Inn Invitational hint that coaches knew they might have something special in the junior. Battling a slight illness in her first time competing in the triple jump, Williams jumped 41 feet, 3¼ inches to take first in the event.
“I wasn’t expecting to do well at all,” she said. “I was lying down before the triple jump, and I barely warmed up.”
It was one of three event titles for Williams last weekend. She also won the 60 meters and set a indoor personal best in the long jump with a winning mark of 20-1½.
The plan for Williams when she came to Nebraska was to focus exclusively on the long jump, the event in which she was a second-team All-American last season after finishing ninth at the NCAA outdoor meet, but coaches saw hints that Williams might have promise in the triple jump as well.
After avoiding the weight room like the plague in her first two years at Nebraska, Williams said, she finally decided to get serious about strength training last summer. Her leg strength and speed improved noticeably, and she started turning heads in the fall when she performed well in drills shared by the Huskers’ long jumpers and triple jumpers.
When assistant coach Clayton Pritchard approached Williams again about adding the triple jump to her repertoire, she finally listened.
“I was just kind of negative about it, and I regret that now,” she said. “I wish I would’ve given it a try and listened to people, but I don’t really have a high self-confidence or anything. I was like ‘No, I’ll just stick with long jump.’ ”
It wasn’t the first time Williams came around to an unfamiliar situation. When she was 10, her family was displaced from their Louisiana home by Hurricane Katrina. Her mother stood in line at an office that worked to resettle families in different parts of the U.S. The woman in front of her mother was livid when the resettlement worker offered Auburn, Nebraska, as a new place to live.
When the woman left, Williams’ mother, Andrea, told the agency that with six children, she would be happy to go wherever the family could have a home together.
The transition was hard for Williams, an African-American who said she had never spoken to a white person before moving to Auburn, a town of about 3,400 people 65 miles south of Omaha.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I cried for like the first two weeks,” she said. “It was horrible because I just wasn’t used to it, wasn’t used to snow, wasn’t used to people being kind and actually meaning it.”
But the Williams family has called Nebraska home ever since. She said her siblings often make up a noisy contingent at the Devaney Center, and this weekend they’ll see her again give her new event a try. Williams will sit out Friday’s Nebraska Wesleyan Invitational at the Devaney Center, but she’s registered for the triple jump when Nebraska hosts the Mark Colligan Memorial on Saturday.
Pepin said he’s not ready to identify where the ceiling could be in the triple jump for Williams, whose addition gives NU a deep pool in the event after sophomore Reka Czuth and senior Mollie Gribbin both earned All-Big Ten honors last year.
Williams won the triple jump last week despite one of the slower runway approaches among her competitors, the coach said. More practice and more confidence in technique should mean gradual improvement to her takeoff speed and maybe even bigger numbers from her by the end of the season.
“She’s doing exceedingly well in the triple jump for a beginner and for what little work she’s done on it,” Pepin said. “It comes very natural and easy for her. She has real good speed in it, and she’s pretty strong.”
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