School-record time lifts Sherk to PIAA bronze

By on March 20, 2019
Cocalico junior Zach Sherk broke the 58-second barrier for the first time, and shattered his own school record, while winning bronze in the PIAA State Double-A boys 100 breaststroke at Bucknell University last Thursday. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Cocalico junior Zach Sherk broke the 58-second barrier for the first time, and shattered his own school record, while winning bronze in the PIAA State Double-A boys 100 breaststroke at Bucknell University last Thursday. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Zach Sherk was true to his word.

Having advanced to the State finals in the Double-A boys 100 breaststroke, only to see that his heat wouldn’t be held until close to 10 p.m. last Thursday night, the Cocalico junior swimmer offered some re-assuring words.

“It was really late,” Cocalico coach Wendy Enck said. “But he told me that he does better at night.”

Sure enough, the Eagles’ night owl delivered.

Recording a school-record time of 57.76 seconds, Sherk touched the wall with a bronze-medal finish in the 100 breaststroke at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.

That time shattered his own school record of 58.25, achieved while winning L-L gold as a sophomore during the 2017-18 season.

More so, it was Sherk’s first time breaking the 58-second barrier.

“It’s a best time, you can’t be mad about that,” said Sherk, who also won a PIAA fourth-place medal in the 100 breaststroke last year in 58.46. “My goal going into it was top three, definitely. I knew I was capable of a 57 long before I swam and I just had to put everything together correctly and I had a really good swim.”

“His whole goal going into it was to break 58,” Enck said, “and he did it rather convincingly.”

Late hours and all.

“Now I believe him,” Enck laughed.

During Wednesday’s action, Sherk was also part of the 200 medley relay team — along with freshman Ryan Brubaker, junior Nicolas Molignoni and sophomore Robert Gehman — which advanced to the B-finals and took 13th in 1:41.89, and he added a 16th-place finish in the 50 free B-finals in 22.34 seconds.

Competing in those events helped prepare him for Thursday’s 100 breaststroke.

“Last year,” Sherk said Wednesday night, “I only had two races, both relays before my breaststroke, and I wasn’t used to the pool yet. I think this year, having the two individual (races) that I did today, it’s going to prep me for (Thursday) and it’s going to be a good race.”

In the prelims Thursday morning, he punched his ticket to the A-finals by clinching the No. 3 seed, touching the wall in 58.57 seconds.

That, however, was just the start of a long day.

Since the swimmers had to be checked out of their hotels by then, finding a place for Sherk to rest before the finals was a challenge.

Then the Eagles learned that the State diving competition which was being held that afternoon was running behind schedule.

“We were calculating it in our heads,” Enck said, “and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s not going to swim until 11 o’clock now.’”

Fortunately, the lost time was somehow made up.

But with the clock pushing 10 p.m. until the breaststroke got underway, there was still concern.

“I told his parents afterward that I was so nervous for (Zach) because I just wanted him to do well,” Enck said.

That’s exactly what Sherk did.

He was fourth after the first 50 meters, with his split of 27.04 placing him just 15-hundredths of a second behind Greensburg Salem’s William Crites (26.89).

But Sherk eventually overtook the Golden Lions’ senior in the final 50 to claim the bronze in 57.76 seconds. Crites was fourth in 58.43.

“On my second wall and my finish (in the prelims), I was a little bit long going into them,” Sherk said, “and I know I have to attack the walls. I felt going into the race that’s all I had to fix, and that’s what I did and it really worked.”

“He nailed all his turns and he had a great start,” Enck said. “I really got the sense that he’s proud of his final swim.”

Holy Ghost Prep senior Andrew Iannacone (56.20) and Belle Vernon senior Robert Spekis (57.98) took 1-2, respectively.

“We were talking about it in the afternoon,” Enck recalled, “those two guys ahead of him were pretty quick and we knew they were going to be quick in the evening as well.”

But Sherk was grateful for the competition.

“That helped a lot. It always helps,” he said.

With one more year left in his Cocalico swim career, Sherk is looking to continue making strides.

“I’ve got a lot of growing to do yet,” he said. “I’m only hoping for better times. That’s all you can hope for. Hope that you can stay healthy and keep progressing in any career you’re doing.”

Underclassmen, in fact, dominated the Eagles’ 200 medley relay which placed 13th.

Seeded 14th in 1:41.62, the foursome of Brubaker, Sherk, Molignoni and Gehman dropped their time to 1:41.33 in Wednesday’s prelims, placing 9th to qualify for the consolation B-finals.

Pottsville (1:41.15) edged out the Eagles by just 18-hundredths of a second for the final spot in the championship A-finals and a guaranteed medal.

“Bittersweet is a good word for it,” Brubaker said. “There was no expectation going into it, being that we were seeded a lot lower. It was great to see that we almost got there. We didn’t quite and it was a little disappointing, but I think we can walk away happy with what we did.”

Enck concurred.

“It was a really close race this morning and we just got out-touched and we were kinda bummed about it,” she said. “But I said, ‘Go in the consolation, you’re going to be in the center lane, win the heat and let’s go from there.’ They can’t be disappointed.”

In that evening’s B-finals, Brubaker led off with a split of 27.18 seconds in the backstroke, then Sherk was next with a 26.44 in the breaststroke, Molignoni followed with a 24.91 in the fly, and Gehman brought it home with a 23.36 in the free, giving them 13th place in an overall time of 1:41.89.

“There were definitely some nerves,” Molignoni said. “A big stage like this, there were a bunch of people, but you’ve just got to do your best and put all your effort into it and you’ll do fine.”

“Big meets come around often,” Gehman said, “you can’t let the size of the crowd or all the cameras take you away from what you’re there to do. It can’t deter you from swimming at States.”

From their seed time of 1:44.72 to earning a finish of 1:41.33 at States, the Eagles’ medley relay dropped three-plus seconds at the end of the year.

“They did great,” Enck said. “And it’s tough going from Districts to States. You get 10 days and you have to try to stay rested that entire 10 days. That’s a tough thing to overcome.”

In the 50 freestyle B-finals, Sherk clocked in with a time of 22.34 seconds for 16th place. Cathedral Prep senior Grant Brown edged Sherk at the wall for 15th in 22.30 seconds.

“I wanted to be in there low-22 and I accomplished that,” Sherk said, “so I’m not mad or anything. I’m pretty happy with my time. I didn’t even make it (to States) last year (in the 50 free), so it’s pretty exciting to make this year.”

The foursome of Brubaker, Gehman, Molignoni and Sherk also competed in the 200 free relay. Seeded 28th in 1:32.86, the Eagles finished in 1:33.54 and improved to 26th, but fell a little bit short of advancing to the finals.

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