OJR Grad and Lions' Senior Scherer Looks Ahead To London
Mitch Scherer has Olympic dreams in sight as he ends his scholastic career.
There are two waterways Mitch Scherer could take on the long journey from Central Pennsylvania to London. He could travel roughly 15 miles east of State College and hop into Penns Creek, swimming until he hits the mighty Susquehanna River. From their confluence he could follow the west branch past Harrisburg, Havre De Grace, Maryland and into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay. There, according to timeanddate.com, approximately 3,164 nautical miles of cold, dark North Atlantic waters would await him. It would be an exhausting, dangerous, time consuming and unprecedented journey.
Or, the Penn State senior could have the race of his life at the USA Swimming Olympic Trials -- June 24 through July 2 -- in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Olympic Trials meet represents a pinnacle and keystone for Scherer's Nittany Lion career. Penn State's athletic website is stuffed to the gills with his and his teammates' exploits. A school record holder in the 100 and 200 breaststroke -- the events he will compete in at trials -- Scherer also helped key the Lions' program record setting 200 medley relay at the NCAA Championships during the 2010-2011 season. The accolades continued this past season, with the Lions having their best finish since 2002, according to GoPSUsports.com. A 54 point, 5 All-American garnering performance by the Penn State men was good enough for 17th place at the NCAA meet, the highest Penn State has finished since the 2002 edition of the team came in 15th.
Scherer, teammates Nate Savoy, Sean Grier and Shane Austin set the 400 medley relay school record en route to an eighth place finish, a position equaled by the 200 medley relay, which featured Brian Alden at anchor instead of Austin. The relays were key to the Lions' chlorine revival.
It is this team success that Scherer takes the most pride in.
"I respect everyone on the team, just for being here and doing what they're doing," Scherer recently said between bouts of studying for his bachelors degree in animal science. "There's no place for the weary kind. It definitely has times when you are just so overly exhausted, but it's just the fact that you can push through it and get through says something about your character. And I respect everyone here for doing it."
Scherer said the team brings out the best in him.
"Just in trying to prove ... to them that I am committed to the team and to success with the team," he said. "Everyone is for each other. I couldn't have asked for a better team."
Head coach John Hargis echoes those sentiments.
"He's just a genuine kid," Hargis said. "A kid that the guys knew they could always count on … a leader by action more so (than) words. He has all the tangibles that you would want in an athlete. He always worked hard … a kid we're truly going to miss."
Scherer considers Hargis and the coaching staff the key to his success.
"I expected to come here and drop time, but I never expected to do as well as I did," he said. "I owe it all to the coaches that we have here. They really know what they're doing."
With the scholastic swimming season all but wrapped up, attention now turns to Omaha and Scherer's chances to avoid a grueling swim if he wants to see London.
"I'm happy at the way it kind of worked out," Scherer said. "Just as my college career is closing, there's this amazing opportunity to go to Olympic Trials. I've heard great things about that meet. I mean, I hear that that is a celebration of swimming and just to even go to the meet is an honor for me."
Scherer follows in the wake of fellow Lion, Pottstown native and Owen J. Roberts graduate Pat Schirk, who attended the trials during Scherer's first year in Happy Valley. Schirk finished third in the 200 backstroke and eighth in the 100 and 100 backstroke during the 2008 trials.
"He was just saying how great it was," Scherer said. "How much of a good experience it was. So I'm really excited. I'm personally just excited for that day to come. It's just getting there that's going to be tough."
Swimmers who have hit USA qualifying standards face rounds of competition at the trials and battle through preliminary races to earn a place in the semifinals. If a swimmer can make it through the semis and into the final round of eight for their event, the Olympics are in sight. Only the top two from each event -- or top six for the 100 and 200 free -- earn their place on the team. USA Swimming's official website lays down some sobering and staggering statistics about Scherer's odds. Roughly point zero five percent of the members of USA Swimming will even make it to Omaha. Of those, four percent maximum can make the Olympic roster, although the actual number can be lower.
Hargis is candid about his charge's chances. He admits Scherer would need to put together an "almost perfect race" to make the team. But he is confident the young man can make it at least as far as round 16, and Olympic dreams are nothing if not for long shots.
For his part, Scherer sounds as if he has already won where it matters most. The trials are almost icing on the cake.
"I absolutely couldn't have asked for a better four years from this place," Scherer said. "I came in as a freshman not knowing what to expect … I didn't expect to make as many friends as I did."
He said he loved his State College experiences.
"It's been the best and the worst and everything combined," he said. "It's been the hardest time, it's been the most fun time. It's just been everything in four years and it's just been great."