"I'm just beyond grateful for him." It's not always easy being the coach's daughter, especially when his criticism comes amidst an astronomical .533 batting average, but Pfeiffer Falcons shortstop Vada Blue Sherrill takes life in stride. It's the same strides she takes from first base before vanishing down the base paths, reemerging in a cloud of clay infield dirt, light years ahead of the throw from behind home plate.
"Whenever I steal a base, I know it's because of Steph." Pfeiffer is currently in the midst of transitioning from D2 to D3. The shift means Sherrill's eye-popping statistics aren't eligible for the NCAA leader board, but to provide quantifiable context to her historic season, she would currently rank first in home runs, RBI, and stolen bases – the later of which she's a perfect 46 for 46 on the season and hasn't been caught in her last 70 attempts.
"Me and Steph really work well together," Sherrill boasts about second-spot hitter Stephanie Fortner. The senior's patience at the plate deserves mounds of credit for Vada's perfect stealing percentage. "Whenever I steal a base, I know it's because of Steph because she's taking the bat back to where the catcher's not coming straight forward. She's having to come up and then throw. Steph is really setting me up for success. She goes deep into the count and doesn't get a lot of the recognition, but all of my stolen bases are hers, essentially."
[credit]Sean Myers Photography[/credit]
The 5-7 junior from Hiddenite, North Carolina (population 536 as of the 2010 census), is equally humble when it comes to discussing the compound effects that offseason tweaks had on her swing. Speaking with a charming southern twang, Sherrill reveals, "Along with my dad and coach Johnny [Meadows], we tore my swing apart from last season to this season, and I'm staying more level through the zone."
"I've had the same mentality over my career, but I think this year I've had a different approach. I've taken it more one at bat at a time and not trying to let any other outside forces try to bleed into that at bat. If something bad happens, say I make an error in the field, I don't want to carry my glove to my at bat."
— Pfeiffer Athletics (@PfeifferSports) March 28, 2018
Small tweaks. Massive home runs. The end result of a selfless player not afraid to make adjustments despite hitting an impressive .364 her freshman year and .320 in 2017.
"Throughout the years, I've heard stories." The road to stardom at Pfeiffer hasn't always been easy. Coaching has been in father Monte Sherrill's blood since his early twenties, and daughter Vada has spent her entire life hearing others lament how tough dad was on them.
"I would hear stories like, 'Aw, man. He was the hardest on me.' 'No. He was the hardest on me.' " I'm like, no, you do not have to ride home with him and talk and then stay at his house for weeks on end. I've been living with him for almost 21 years, and it's been just constant softball, softball, softball. But, in that way, he's always been hard on me because he wants me to thrive under pressure and when things aren't comfortable. He still wants me to be me and to succeed. I know for a fact he's been harder on me because I am his daughter and he can pretty much say whatever he wants to me and not get in trouble for it."
With age comes wisps of wisdom, and once she got to college Sherrill realized how her father's stern ways were setting her up for stardom.
"There was a mantra at our high school that the football team went by. The sharpest steel goes through the hottest fire. We'd always talk about how he's not doing it just to hurt my feelings or to make me feel bad about myself. He's doing it not just to mold me into a better player, but we talk about things off the field that just make me into a more well-rounded individual."
"I appreciate the simple things in life" Off the diamond, Vada's nearly waist-long brown hair frames a cheery ear-to-ear smile that provides quite the contrast to an on-the-field presence featuring eyeblack smeared down each cheek and infield dirt perpetually staining the front of her pinstriped jersey.
The Falcons' star received offers from big-time D1 programs like Tennessee, Georgia, and Ole Miss, but ultimately her bond with not only her father, but also her entire family led Sherrill to the private institution some 40 miles east of Charlotte with an enrollment hovering at 1,200 students.
"It all boiled down to what was best for me. There's a lot of people, especially at that age, where they're trying to get you to go to the best of the best or 'You need to come here because you'll get to wear all this gear and get to be on TV.'"
[credit]Sean Myers Photography[/credit]
A lemming-like mentality is not in her repertoire. She did a lot of soul searching with her mother, and the faith-driven Sherrill relied on a higher power above to her help ultimately end up at Pfeiffer where she has fit in seamlessly both on the diamond and in the classroom.
Sherrill acknowledges that her current success is a recipe of family, teammates, and a personality so anti-narcissist that she doesn't possess a single social media account. For Vada Blue – whose name is influenced by both her great-grandmother and legendary Cy Young pitcher Vida Blue – her sense of self-worth and contentment aren't influenced by likes or retweets but rather connecting with the outdoors and spending as much time with her family as she can, be it harvesting fruit from Mother Earth or enjoying country tunes on warm summer evenings.
"During the summer I work on a strawberry patch, and I'm always working something with my hands. Spending family quality time … anytime I'm able to be with my grandparents I go over to their house. I appreciate the simple things in life. I don't have to go out on Friday nights. If I'm at home, I'll just sit out on the front porch and play me some Little Big Town and I'll be set."
Unlike some of her slugging contemporaries, Vada eschews future dreams of Olympic softball glory, instead hoping to follow in her hero's footsteps and remaining ensconced in small-town North Carolina life.
"In a perfect world, I'd like to be a PE teacher. I've really been following – if you look back at my dad's career – I'm basically mirroring everything he's done. He's been the role model of all role models for me."
Vada's passion for working with kids is palpable. It's the same invigorating spirit that's helped her squad race out to a 30-4 record.
And as if by osmosis, it's the same fiery spirit she learned on those countless long drives home from practice. Or perhaps it's the inevitable result of daily interaction with the greatest role model and hero a daughter could ever pray for.