Not much slows Nikiski senior Sarah Herrin down. Not motocross jumps, not basketball defenders, not test questions in school.
Herrin is one of the best girls high school basketball players in the state, the best girls motocross rider in the state and a top drawer student.
She showed her value on the basketball court this year by leading Nikiski to the Class 3A state title and by picking up the Class 3A girls player of the year award.
She has shown her skill in motocross by winning the state Women’s Pro division five years in a row and losing just one race, due to engine trouble, in that time.
Herrin also finds time to excel in the classroom at Nikiski. She calls school her top priority and maintains a 3.7 grade-point average and is a member of the National Honors Society.
Herrin manages to excel in those three things due to her energy, toughness and dedication.
Herrin’s mother, Chris, said her daughter’s energy became apparent just days after Sarah was born.
“She never slept,” Chris said. “She was always awake. She was always wide-eyed at the break of dawn and went to bed late. She’s always been active.”
A lot of the toughness started forming when Herrin was just 3 and her father, Kevin, had her start riding motorcycles. By the age of 9, Herrin was barreling over jumps in motocross races.
Herrin is such a strong rider that she has also picked up second- and third-place season finishes in state series racing against boys.
“She’s as strong a player as I’ve ever coached,” said Nikiski basketball coach Ward Romans, who started coaching at Nikiski in 1990. “In talking to opposing coaches, other players are telling their coaches how strong she is.”
Chris and Kevin also were happy to see their daughter develop a will to succeed in school.
“We’ve never had to tell Sarah to get her homework done,” Chris said. “If she has homework, she gets it done and does the best she can.”
Herrin said that a pivotal moment for her work ethic came in seventh grade.
“That’s how I got my work ethic when I was in seventh grade,” Herrin said. “I liked basketball, but I wasn’t that good at it.”
Here, the record should show that Herrin was already a pretty good player. Chris Herrin said that coaches Russ Hitchcock, Jay Griffel and Steve Holloway had done a good job developing her daughter in Boys and Girls Club and Nikiski Youth Basketball.
Herrin’s middle school coach, Vern Kornstad, saw Herrin’s vast potential and pushed her to reach it. He said he was probably a little too tough on Herrin in seventh grade, and at one point even apologized to her for being so tough.
“I want to think I wouldn’t have gotten on her so hard if I wouldn’t have known she was tough,” Kornstad said. “I knew her dad, so that probably had something to do with it.
“I don’t think I was as tough as anybody as I was on her.”
Herrin, with her motocross toughness, responded to Kornstad’s approach.
“I knew I had to work on my game,” Herrin said. “After seventh grade, I started working really hard by going to the gym.
“By my eighth grade year, I was feeling a lot better about my game.”
Herrin became a classic gym rat. She would go to open gyms, even if they were not at her school, and also was not afraid to jump into games with boys.
“It’s always fun playing against guys,” Herrin said. “It makes you better. It makes me more aggressive.”
Not that Herrin needed to be much more aggressive after her motocross exploits.
“You can’t be scared when you’re going off a jump that you’re going to come up short,” Herrin said. “That compares to basketball and being fearless and attacking.”
By the end of Herrin’s freshman year, she had worked herself into the role of the first person off the bench on the Bulldogs team that would win state.
By this time, Herrin had far surpassed Kornstad as the fiercest critic of her game.
“She’s always been her own toughest critic,” Romans said. “She has to do everything just right.
“As she’s gotten older, she’s gotten more mature in being able to deal with that.”
After coming up short at state in her sophomore and junior years, Nikiski won the state title this year by defeating Barrow 51-41. The Bulldogs trailed the Whalers 23-18 at halftime, but Herrin opened the second half with a 3-pointer and then a driving layup to tie the game and give the Bulldogs the momentum.
“When she came out and stroked that 3, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I wasn’t too hard on her,’” Kornstad said.
Herrin ended up averaging a double-double for the state tournament and ended the season averaging 19 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Herrin has always waffled on whether she wants to pursue motocross or basketball after high school, but for now she is intent on playing college basketball next season.
“When I see her in the hallway, she’s always smiling,” Romans said. “She has sure meant a lot to me. She has set a real level of excellence that I’m glad my freshman daughter (Rachel) has been able to watch.”
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