Sheri Bertell's times in the 100 and 200 meters are impressive, but to really appreciate the speed of the Mission Viejo High School sprinter, one needs to talk to her soccer coach, Hiram deFries.
DeFries likes to recall the Diablos' Southern Section semifinal match against Edison in the 4-A division playoffs two months ago to illustrate the impact of Bertell's speed.
Edison came into the semifinal having not allowed a goal in Sunset League play. The Chargers opened the match with possession of the ball when Bertell, playing fullback, made a quick move at midfield and stole a pass.
"She cut straight to the goal and scored less than a minute into the game," DeFries said. "No one could catch her. You could look at the Edison players and the players on their bench and see they were stunned."
Bertell, the fastest girl in Orange County, had struck again. Mission Viejo went on to beat Edison, 3-0, and then defeated Torrance, 2-1, in the championship game.
Bertell will lead the strong Diablo girls' track and field team in the Southern Section's 4-A preliminaries at noon today at Gahr High in Cerritos. The top nine finishers qualify for the section's championships next Saturday at Cerritos College.
Bertell's training routine was interrupted recently when she developed a stomach ulcer. She later became anemic as a result of the antibiotics she was taking for her ulcer, but she didn't miss any meets.
"I was feeling lousy, especially when I tried to run," she said. "It was frustrating because I'm used to doing whatever I want.
"In our dual meet with El Toro (two weeks ago), I could hardly run. I didn't even look at my times, I just left. My legs were killing me."
Bertell felt well enough last week at the South Coast League finals to win the 100 meters with a time of 12.62 and the 200 meters with a time of 25.99.
Bertell's speed allowed deFries to position her as a right defender, which meant she usually guarded the opposing team's fastest striker.
"She's fearless," deFries said. "You look at her and she's not very physical. But get her on the field and watch out. She has that great speed combined with an anything-goes style of play.
"Usually after a couple of runs in a game, the opposing striker realized she couldn't run away from Sheri. Then it got to the point where most girls were intimidated by her. Sheri is a very, very competitive girl."
There's no doubt Bertell is fast on the track. She owns the school records in the 100 meters (12.30 seconds) and the 200 meters (25.15). Last month at the Orange County championships, she won the 100 meters, finished second in the 200 meters when her starting block slipped and anchored the Diablos' winning 400-meter relay team.
"Sheri's leg on the relay team was one of the finest bursts of speed you'll ever see," said Fred Almond, Mission Viejo track coach. "We were three yards behind Esperanza when Sheri got the baton and she won easily.
"Sheri has a lot of pride when it comes to performing. I've been the coach here since 1972, and she's the finest sprinter I've coached."
Bertell started competing in track in the sixth grade and was the county's age-group champion in the 100-yard dash as a seventh-grader. She began playing soccer as a 7-year-old.
Her father, Dick, has had a big impact on her career. He played six seasons for the Chicago Cubs.
"I think I get a lot of my athletic ability from my father," she said. "People say I get the competitive spirit from my mother."
Bertell will compete in the 100 and 200 meters, the 400-meter relay and the mile relay today. Mission Viejo finished fourth in the mile relay at the state meet last year.
Bertell said her favorite event is the sprint relay and her strongest event is the 200 meters.
"The relay is exciting to run," she said. "It's not as nerve-racking as the 100 or 200 because you don't have to sit in the blocks.
"I get very, very nervous in the starting blocks. I don't feel comfortable waiting for the start. I'm more relaxed for the relay.
"If our team is behind, I really get psyched up. I can't wait to get the baton and go."
Despite her anxiety in the starting blocks, Bertell thinks her strongest event is the 200 meters.
"I feel I have the best chance of going the farthest in the 200 meters," she said. "The natural athletes seem to excel in the 100 meters, but you really have to train for the 200. You have to attack this race."
DeFries said there's a sign to watch for when Bertell is about to do something special on the athletic field.
"When Sheri goes into that lean and fires up the after-burners, look out," he said. "I saw it in the finals of the Ocean View tournament.
"We lost the ball and one of the Torrance players had a straight breakaway to our goal. There was no one within 15 yards of her.
"Sheri took off, caught the girl within 30 yards and took the ball away from her. You should have seen the look on that girl's face."