One of the most decorated senior seasons in Westmont College women’s tennis is getting do-over.
NAIA All-American Cade Pierson, the West Region Senior Player of the Year, was also honored last week by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association with its Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award. But she had a prize of her own to award to the Warriors: The announcement of her return to the Montecito campus next year.
Seniors who had their spring seasons cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic have been granted an extra season of eligibility by the NAIA — an opportunity that Pierson has decided to seize.
“When I reflect on my last four years at Westmont, I am filled with emotion and amazement on the ways that I’ve grown,” said Pierson, a Solvang native and 2016 graduate of Santa Barbara High. “I didn’t expect that my life would be changed so greatly and in so many different ways.
“On top of giving birth to and developing my faith in my time at Westmont, I’ve sparked academic passions in both of my majors, kinesiology and psychology, which I didn’t expect at all.”
Not only was Pierson one of the top-ranked players this year in NAIA women’s tennis— No. 5 in singles and No. 11 in doubles — she was also her team’s Golden Eagle Scholar-athlete of the Year.
“I’ve met friends and mentors who I foresee having lifelong connections with because of Westmont,” she said. “And also because of Westmont, I’ve developed as an athlete and I’ve grown in my passion for tennis far beyond what I had expected.
“When I say that I am grateful for this college, and that I’m not ready for my time here to end, especially like this, I really do mean it.”
Pierson is the first Westmont player to receive the Arthur Ashe Award, which is named after the late tennis star and humanitarian. Emily Keach was a finalist for the award in 2013 when she was honored as the West Region winner.
Pierson, an intern with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, also received the Golden State Athletic Conference’s Cliff Hamlow Champion of Character Award three months ago.
She worked with the players at her alma mater of Santa Barbara High as well as with Special Olympians at their annual tennis tournament. She also volunteered with United Way’s Day of Caring, cleaning up a local preschool’s playground and harvesting fruit to be donated to a local food bank, as well as with the Bucket Brigade in making a safe walking path for nearby Cold Springs School.
Westmont coach Ellie Johnson described Pierson as “a light of truth and a testament to how we are to love those around us.”
“My favorite days are the ones when I reflect back on the laughter our team shared,” Johnson said. “Most of those days, Cade is to thank. The joy she chooses to carry herself is spilled out over our whole team.”
Sophomore Rachal Jackson said she was greatly affected by Pierson’s leadership as captain of the 18th-ranked Warriors.
“She’s such a fun, caring and hardworking person,” she said. “I learned how important it is to work hard and have good sportsmanship at the same time. Cade always encouraged us to try our best while being the best person we can be.”
Pierson had a singles record of 8-2 when the coronavirus pandemic ended her season. She beat NCAA Division 1 players from UC Irvine and UC Riverside. Her only losses were to a Division 1 player from Cal State Northridge and to another from Fresno Pacific who was ranked No. 15 player in Division 2.
“On the days the team performs well, Cade is leading from the top,” Johnson said. “Her results come from the way she prepares to play and her love of the game.
“Even on the days Cade doesn’t get the results she would hope, she walks off the court with pride knowing she controlled her effort and attitude.
“I have had the honor to walk through some pretty tough situations with Cade. Whether she is dealing with something personally or is helping a teammate with something they are facing, she commits to being present and doing whatever is needed to be done.”
Pierson said she got plenty in return, and that stoked her desire to return to the Warriors.
“I’m one of the lucky people who gets to call herself a collegiate athlete and can say that playing a sport that I love has supported me to be able to attend and afford college,” she said. “On top of those blessings, because of tennis, I’ve been able to attend an institution that’s exposed me to the true gospel of Christ, and that’s inspired me to begin my faith walk.”