Sarah Herron ’19 soared to new heights for Concordia University Irvine and the PacWest conference, becoming the University’s first NCAA Woman of the Year Top 30 honoree.
In 2019, Sarah also took Concordia and the PacWest to new lengths, setting school and conference records for the long jump as part of a transformational season for Concordia’s track and field team.
“Sarah rewrote the expectation of what it means to be a track and field athlete at Concordia Irvine,” says Keegan Bloomfield, head coach of Concordia’s track and field and cross country teams. “She’s the epitome of a student-athlete. It was exciting to see her succeed on and off the field.”
Sarah holds three school records at Concordia, for indoor long jump, outdoor long jump and with her teammates in the 4 x 400-meter relay. Twice she was the PacWest conference long jump champion. Three times she represented CUI at Nationals, placing as high as 11th nationally. She was named Concordia’s 2019 Female Athlete of the Year.
Her athletic gifting was obvious from birth, she says.
“My mom said I had a foot like a jackrabbit, because it was really big and definitely flat,” Sarah says with a laugh.
Sarah discovered track and field in elementary school and excelled in sprinting and long jumping.
“If I get enough speed and enough height, it feels like I’m flying,” she says. “I remember feeling as light as air, and strong and powerful. It was an amazing feeling and I wanted to reproduce it.”
After competing for four years at her high school in the Bay Area, Sarah was recruited by Bloomfield to come to CUI.
“We saw a lot of potential athletically and in her character and energy,” the coach says. “We want people like Sarah who have strong character. She was part of our first recruiting class, and we challenged them to grow as a community. As a captain, Sarah stepped up. They laid the foundation for a family environment.”
On the field, Sarah made an immediate impact, winning gold in long jump at the conference championship in her freshman year.
“Everything we saw in her potential showed up at the biggest stage,” says Bloomfield. Joslyn Drew, director of operations for track and field, and assistant coach of long jump and triple jump, says Sarah succeeds because she is coachable.
“She wanted to be the best, so she listened, trusted us and performed,” Drew says.
Success in the long jump requires speeding down the runway, exploding off the board, and running with consistent rhythm so not to scratch, Drew says. But Sarah also needed to learn patience.
“Sometimes you want a personal record right then and there, and I would get angry and bummed out if a long jump didn’t go well,” Sarah remembers. “But our coaches taught us to move through the process correctly, which leads to your goal, the outcome. That helped me to become more patient. I began to see how all the knowledge my coaches put into me paid off. My mentality shifted in meets.”
Drew watched as Sarah “matured and handled situations differently than when she came in,” she says. “One of the coolest areas we saw her grow in was her leadership and ability to draw her teammates, both male and female, into the successful patterns she had developed.”
This was true off the field, too, as Sarah took leadership roles in Phi Epsilon Kappa, a sports medicine fraternity, the Black Student Union, and Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership fraternity. Somehow, with all this activity, she still earned a 3.71 GPA over four years.
“I’m really proud of what I was able to do academically,” Sarah says. “I’m thankful for professors and classmates who helped me out.”
Sarah earned second place in the long jump during her sophomore and junior years at the PacWest Championship Meet, then returned to top form in her senior year. She flew more than 20 feet in the long jump and qualified for indoor nationals as one of the top three qualifiers in the nation.
“Talk about that elated feeling,” she says. “I got that feeling of flying, being so strong, powerful and so effective with my form, and jumping with precision. I was in heaven.”
But her greatest meet became her greatest heartbreak. After setting four personal records in a row, and breaking the meet record and the stadium record, she pulled her hamstring on the fifth jump.
“Talk about so much joy and then sorrow,” Sarah says. “I really relied on Coach Drew, teammates and my parents to get me through that, mentally. They kept saying, ‘Don’t let the injury take away from the joy of what you just did.’”
The injury dampened her post-season results, but the meet remained her “proudest, most precious win,” she says. She had earned the PacWest long jump title, capping her collegiate career. It was part of an extraordinary season for the entire team, which broke 13 women’s team school records and six men’s team school records. Even better, CUI’s women’s track and field team boasted more academic allPacWest honorees — 37 — than any other team in any other sport in the entire conference.
After the season ended, Sarah learned she had been named a top 30 finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, out of nearly 600 nominees. No PacWest athlete had ever been a finalist before. She traveled to Indianapolis for the awards ceremony and bonded with other women who were nominated.
“It was so great to have a weekend where we could all celebrate each others’ accomplishments and share experiences about our schools, lives and careers,” Sarah says. “We all have a group chat now. I was talking to them today. The NCAA were fantastic hosts, so kind, so helpful. To be the only PacWest representative to make it that far was very humbling. The PacWest is full of fantastic athletes across all of the teams. I hope I am one of many future CUI and PacWest athletes to represent our program on the big stage."
Sarah is now a physical therapy aide at Webster Orthopedics Sports Physical Therapy and will apply to physical therapy graduate school in the spring of 2021.
“Seeing Sarah become the woman she has is one reason I love coaching,” says Drew. Her success, and the success of the entire team, has everyone soaring.
She wanted to be the best, so she listened, trusted us and performed.