Shields shatters Nixdorf’s record

By on May 8, 2019
Warwick’s Connor Shields, shown competing at the District Three Championships last May, ran a time of 4:16.67 on Friday in the 1,600 to break Ed Nixdorf’s school record, which was set in 1966. Lititz Record file photo 

Warwick’s Connor Shields, shown competing at the District Three Championships last May, ran a time of 4:16.67 on Friday in the 1,600 to break Ed Nixdorf’s school record, which was set in 1966. Lititz Record file photo

Warrior senior achieves long-time goal to break 1,600 mark which stood for half-century

Ed Nixdorf wasn’t in Philadelphia last Friday.

But if he could turn back time, the former Warwick athlete and coach surely would have been.

At the West Chester Track and Field Invitational, Nixdorf’s school record in the 1,600 finally fell when Warrior senior Connor Shields shattered it with a blistering time of 4:16.67.

It was three seconds faster than Nixdorf’s 4:19.9, which he ran while winning the District Three gold medal in the mile in 1966 at McCaskey High School, one week before taking home the State title.

“That’s my only disappointment is that I didn’t get to see him,” he said. “That was my only hope.”

In typical Nixdorf fashion, however, he was gracious and classy while talking about Shields breaking his record. It was the longest-standing mark on the Warwick track and field ledgers.

“I’m really happy for Connor,” Nixdorf said, “because I think he’s had a monkey on his back since he was a ninth-grader because he came in and everyone was saying he’s the one that was going to beat my record. And I tended to agree with that, but I was always upset that people bring it up because it was going to happen when it was going to happen. It was probably on his mind for a long time. So I’m really happy for him. He’s such an outstanding runner in multiple events — in the 400, 800, 1600, 3200. He deserves it. He’s really worked hard.”

It was a moment that Shields will no doubt remember for a very long time.

“It was exciting,” the University of Notre Dame recruit said. “I’ve been going for that for awhile.”

Warrior distance coach Matt Bomberger had a front-row seat for the historic occasion.

“It was just an awesome night,” he said. “Connor was pretty emotional about it all coming together and it was just really special.”

As an eighth-grader in 2015, Shields knew it would take a special effort to break the record. He remembers looking at Nixdorf’s 4:19.9 and thinking, “Wow, that’s so fast.”

But he took big steps as a freshman and the chase was officially on.

“Ninth grade, I improved a lot and I was like, ‘That’s breakable.’ And ever since 10th-grade, I’ve definitely really been shooting for it,” Shields said.

In his sophomore season, he clocked in with a PR time of 4:23.67 while taking sixth at Districts. Back at Shippensburg University as a junior, he won bronze at the District Meet in 4:22.09.

“Tenth-grade, I ran 4:23, and that’s when I really said, ‘Hey, I should break this,’” Shields recalled. “I wanted to do it that year at States. I didn’t run my best and I was pretty upset. Then last year was rough not breaking it.”

But he got a big confidence-boost on April 6 when he won gold at the Bruce Dallas Invitational, tying his PR with a time of 4:22.09.

“I was happy with that,” Shields said. “I’m not going to complain about running a good time early on, even if it’s not my best ever because I just knew I had to stay patient and that I was in the best shape I’d been at that point since I’ve been running.”

That, of course, set the stage for last Friday at the West Chester Invitational.

As Bomberger recalled, Shields did a solid job staying with the top pack of runners.

“Connor was always in second through fourth place the whole time, keeping good contact with the leaders,” Bomberger said.

Then with about one lap to go, West Chester East’s Joshua Lewin and Conestoga Valley’s Nathan Grucelski opened up a little bit of a gap.

“Connor fought back and closed with everything he had and reeled them back in,” Bomberger said.

After running a time of 2:11.13 on the first 800, Shields brought it home in a fast time of 2:05.55.

“We kinda raced it like a post-season race,” Shields said. “A lot of times in the Olympics and stuff like that, they’ll go out crazy slow and then just kick. The last lap was a 60. So it’s a big confidence-booster running a big PR like that even though it wasn’t the textbook way to run it, I guess.”

In the end, Lewin held on for the gold in 4:15.84, and Grucelski (4:16.58) edged Shields by just .09 for the silver medal.

“Coach always emphasizes to me that I know I can close and that last lap is always going to be there for me,” Shields said. “I just have to be confident in that, so that last lap I knew was in there, and I just went for it.”

“If you’re going to run a good time or if you’re going to go for the win,” Bomberger said, “you’ve got to be able to close and have that speed, and that’s always been in Connor’s back pocket.”

Now he has something else in his back pocket.

The school record in the 1600.

“I certainly know his abilities,” said Nixdorf, who was a volunteer assistant during Shields’ high school career. “He’s such a good kid.”

And as Nixdorf will attest, Shields has a “super” coach in Bomberger.

“Matt’s really doing a great job with the distance program,” Nixdorf said.

It was Bomberger who called Nixdorf last Friday to tell him the news that Shields got the record.

“I’m just happy that it was Connor,” Nixdorf said. “A few other people got really, really close and it was time. I’m happy that he did it. It actually is a good thing for him, I think, going into the (post-season) championships that he can let that go now. He has the record and can just run to win. Hopefully, he’ll bring that time down a little bit, but I don’t think that will be on his mind anymore.”

The record won’t be on Shields’ mind.

But other goals will be.

“This year, I didn’t want to limit myself by saying, ‘I just want to break the record,’ because that’s high 4:19 and I’ve been wanting to say, ‘Hey, I want to run 4:15,’” Shields said. “Well, first I have to break that record, so it was just a little mental block for me, I guess. But it feels good to break it.”

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