It is 5 a.m., and while most are sleeping, Point Park student-athlete Sierra Dawson is already awake preparing for the day ahead and also desperately craving a Starbucks venti beverage.
Even still, Dawson smiles through weary eyes as every day she is achieving her childhood dream.
Dawson is balancing life as a two-sport athlete competing as a member of the women’s basketball and track team, pursuing a master’s degree in pursuit of her desired profession as an athletic director and is also trainer at Shoot 360, which offers basketball training in a state-of-the-art gym.
“Her accomplishments and what she has achieved these last five years as a dual-sport athlete and having success at both speaks measures to the type of person she is,” Point Park Women’s Basketball coach Tony Grenek said.
As the oldest of five, Dawson has faced competition for much of her life, but is also pushing herself to be a role model, which only provides further motivation to be her best self.
On the court, Dawson has appeared in 80 games, starting seven of them, including five of Point Park’s 10 games in a pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign.
Dawson decided to return to play basketball because of her love for the sport and the family atmosphere the team has provided and is also set to compete in throws, as the outdoor season begins March 18.
To put that into perspective, Point Park’s regular-season finale for women’s basketball is Saturday before the River States Conference Tournament begins, meaning there will be less than a month between her competitive seasons.
“When I set a goal, I really don’t steer away from it,” said Dawson. “The way I look at it is that it is two sports that I love, and I’ve been doing it for so long, so it’s an easy transition. It would be harder if I took a break because I am always in the mindset of always moving.”
Prior to committing to Point Park, Grenek and Dawson made the three-minute walk to The Yard in Market Square for a bite to eat, following a university tour.
After talking to the-then track coach, there was mutual interest expressed and Dawson committed.
As a member of the track team, Dawson has been part of a Pioneers squad which has won the last four RSC Championships.
“Sierra hasn’t changed,” Grenek said. “She’s been steady and consistent since she’s been here, and I think that’s what I appreciate about her the most.”
As part of her dream of becoming an athletic director, Dawson was given the opportunity to be the first River States Conference Diversity Intern and missed a few days of basketball practice, to travel for the volleyball championship and a conference that occurred in conjunction with the event.
Upon her return to Pittsburgh, Dawson immediately told Grenek how much she had learned.
“She didn’t go out there to think of it as a three-or-four-day vacation,” said Grenek. “She went out there to learn, find out what others are doing and see things from the athletic-administration side. You give her an opportunity and she’s going to run with it and she’s going to soak in as much knowledge as she can like a sponge.”
In addition to Dawson, Point Park’s two other women’s basketball seniors, Michelle Burns and Carly Lutz are in similar circumstances, studying for their master’s degrees and balancing full-time jobs with being members of the team.
Burns now has 1,828 points, ranking third in program history and averages 19.5 points per game which leads the RSC, all while being a full-time insurance broker, following completion of an internship with Pfizer.
Lutz’s rebounding aggression has consistently provided energy coming off the bench and she works as a full-time teacher. During her time as a student-teacher, Lutz developed a toy for one of who students who happened to be paralyzed from the neck down.
Grenek offered all three of his seniors the opportunity to return, something which presented itself following the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.
The trio have also led by example in the classroom as Point Park ranked sixth in the NAIA with a cumulative 3.71 grade-point average.
For the 11th-year coach, he is happy to support a trio which has combined to play 16 seasons for him and have done so following a model similar to that of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry, which consists of faith, family, education and then basketball.
“I’m blessed to coach kids who follow that pattern and she and I will have that bond forever,” Grenek stated. “All three of our seniors did this through a pandemic. Whoever would have thought in a million years that we would face what we have in the past two years and still find ways to be successful on and off the court? That shows that they’re going to be great human beings and citizens when they leave our program.”
The trio will be recognized in Saturday’s regular-season finale against Indiana University East at CCAC Allegheny.
Dawson admits that she has become more reflective of late, appreciating the little things and loudly cheering on her teammates whether on the floor or bench.
“Even in practice I keep thinking that this next run may be my last run and I am trying to make the most out of it,” she said.
Photo credit: Point Park University Athletics