Nikki Scherer enjoyed a prolific high school track and field career in which she produced championship performances at both the WPIAL and state levels.
The Burrell graduate made a transition to the women’s team at Pitt last spring, and by her own admission, it took some time to get used to different aspects of running in college.
“You could say I hit a freshman slump,” Scherer said. “I lost a little confidence at times. I got to Pitt and got to the practices, training, the weight room work, and it was all different from what I had done at Burrell. There was so much amazing talent on my team and world-class athletes in competitions. I knew I had to raise my level if I was going to compete and be successful.”
Scherer said she took a summer to reflect on her first season at Pitt and get herself back together.
Her refocused energy and determination lifted her performance level, and she enjoyed improved times and finishes for both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Scherer capped her outdoor campaign May 26 at the NCAA East preliminary in Jacksonville, Fla., and as a member of the Panthers 1,600-meter relay came within four seconds of a trip to nationals.
Seeded 22nd for the East regional, one of two that fed into the national competition, the team ticked up to 20th with a season-best time of 3 minutes, 37.83 seconds. The top 12 advanced to nationals.
“I am not the type of person who is OK with not doing well,” Scherer said. “I was determined to improve this year, and I did that. Hopefully, I am able to build off of that going into next season.”
The relay’s regional time was the seventh fastest for the event in program history. It placed third at the ACC championships two weeks earlier and earned second-team All-ACC honors.
“We’re a young relay. It was all our first time in that type of competitive environment,” Scherer said. “It was a new feeling but was a good experience. We know we can take off more time and make NCAAs next year.”
Scherer, a sophomore and the team’s anchor at the regional competition, joined freshmen Sydni Townsend and Flora Ahiarakwe and junior Nina Crawford on the squad. The same four ran at the ACC Indoor Championships and posted an indoor-season-best 3:41.60.
“There’s extra motivation to keep working hard,” Scherer said. “I don’t want to lose my spot on that relay.”
Pitt coach Alonzo Webb said though the relay was made up of underclassmen, no spots are secure in 2020.
“There are other young runners who will be trying to gain a spot on that relay because they know it’s going to be pretty good,” Webb said.
“I keep telling everyone that when they come back for the next season, nothing is guaranteed, no matter how good you are. Nikki understands that. A lot of times it doesn’t come down to just who might be running the four fastest times. Chemistry has a lot to do with it, and this combination, I found out, had the best chemistry. We were just a little bit away from being a national qualifier. I think next year, we should get there, both indoor and outdoor.”
Webb said he was pleased with Scherer’s move to the next level.
“When I recruited her, I liked her toughness and competitiveness. Her work ethic showed through when she got here,” Webb said. “This year, she had a different attitude and knew what to expect. She had more focus on things such as work in the weight room, nutrition, getting the right amount of rest and taking advantage of her recovery days. I think (2020) will be a big breakout year for her.”
Scherer posted a career-best time of 54.21 in the preliminaries of the 400 dash at the ACC championships. She earned a spot in the finals and made the medals podium at eighth.
While Scherer will not compete this summer, she said she will keep busy with work and also prepare for fall conditioning through weight training and select running workouts.
“I’m taking a little bit of time off, but not too much,” she said. “I’m not the type of person to take much time off. I want to be at my best and ready for the fall workouts.”