Burrell's Scherer sends coach out with gold-medal performance
SHIPPENSBURG — Nikki Scherer checked two items off her wish list Saturday when she won a state title and ran a personal best.
Her third wish?
The Burrell senior wanted to send her sprints coach, Frank Phelps, into retirement with a memorable performance in her final high school meet. Scherer did that by winning two medals at Seth Grove Stadium and running away with the 400 meters at the PIAA Class AA track and field championship.
The Pitt recruit finished in 54.82 seconds, more than a second ahead of her closest 400-meter rival and eight-tenths better than her previous best.
Scherer never had broken the 55-second barrier.
“This whole season (Coach) Phelps has said 54s, 54s,” Scherer said. “He's done coaching next year after 35 years. He and I have worked together, and it's been a really long process. I wanted to make sure I went out and did it for him because he's really important to me.”
Scherer took silver in the 200 (24.71). The 400 victory makes her a two-time PIAA champion after winning the 100 meters as a sophomore.
To her, this gold medal felt different.
“It just means more because I really, really wanted this,” Scherer said. “As a sophomore, I didn't really know what to expect. Winning that was awesome, but I worked my butt off for this.”
A year ago, Scherer finished fourth in the 100 and second in the 200. Afterward, she and her coaches devised a new strategy for this year: Scherer would transition from a short-distance sprinter into the longer sprints she will run in college. The 400 meters became her focus.
“She put in the effort and time, and that was rewarded with a gold medal,” Burrell coach Steve White said. “I'm not surprised with her success.”
Scherer's previous best in the 400 was 55.62 seconds.
She won the WPIAL title and qualified for states at 56.69, a mark that seeded her second in the PIAA field behind Neumann-Goretti's Mykala Perry (56.01). In Friday's preliminaries, Scherer ran 57.70.
As she warmed up for Saturday's final, she heard her mom shout motivation from the stands.
“She said: ‘Nikki, don't give up,' ” Scherer said. “Whenever she said that right before (we lined up in) the blocks, I knew I've got to do this. I wanted to go out with a statement. I'm not just here playing around.”
A smooth start had her ahead early, and Perry couldn't chase her down. The Neumann-Goretti freshman finished second (56.02), and Springfield's Sydni Stoval was third (56.30).
“My dad said that I had it from the first curve,” Scherer said, “and that's usually where I'm the slowest.”
Said White: “The goal was to really push from the first 200 (meters), and she did that. At 250, I kind of thought the race was over. Once she got to 275, she was not going to give up that lead. It was a great run.”
Scherer called it “a good sendoff” for Phelps, a veteran assistant who has worked with Burrell track since 1982. Phelps is retiring as coach but will remain with the team in “consulting nature.”
“I don't want him to, but Coach Phelps is retiring,” White said. “... He'll still help us, be a part of us and work out with the kids in the offseason. I just can't say enough positive words about him. He was my coach. And he's never accepted a dime. He's done this all these years as a volunteer.”
Combined, Burrell athletes won six PIAA events this year, including a seventh-place finish in the 400 relay by Taylor Johnson, McKenzie White, Alaina York and Olivia Kelly.
Scherer's was the Bucs' lone gold.
“I really wanted to win,” she said. “I worked the last nine months of my life to do so. It feels amazing.”
Eight for Weimer
Lizzy Weimer ended her high school career with another PIAA medal. Her third-place finish in the Class AA shot put gives her eight.
And her performance Saturday pleased her.
“I wasn't satisfied with my performance on Friday,” Weimer said. “My throw of 43 feet, 6 inches was more satisfying.”
Weimer tied for second with Neumann Goretti's Janese Lynch (42-8), but Lynch's second-best throw was an inch better than Weimer's (42-7).
“I couldn't catch a break,” Weimer said. “She beat me by an inch, but that was all right.”
Weimer will be throwing at Ashland in college.
“That was my last throw of my senior year,” Weimer said. “Being at Shippensburg taught me how to compete. That's really what I'm taking away from here.”
Freeport runner Sidney Shemanski's first visit to Shippensburg ended with a medal. The freshman placed fifth in the girls Class AA 800 at 2:18.93. Her time was 1 second faster than she ran last week to win the WPIAL title.
Paul Schofield contributed. Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.