North Brunswick’s Berberena, South Brunswick’s Santiago win state track championships

On June 1 at Franklin High School in Somerset, Ramy Berberena crossed the finish line without knowing whether or not he had won.

A victory would mean an NJSIAA Group 4 championship in the 400-meter hurdles event. A defeat would mean another second-place finish for the North Brunswick Township High School junior, who also finished second in the event in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional meet on May 24 at Howell High School.

As he walked around just past the finish line, Berberena found his North Brunswick teammate on the girls’ side, junior Nakaja Weaver.

“She looked at me and said, ‘You won. I saw it. I promise you,'” Berberena recalled. “Then we heard the announcement and started celebrating.”

“I couldn’t believe it. It was out of this world. It’s not easy to do,” Berberena added. 

The North Brunswick junior completed the 400-meter hurdle final in 52.10. Freehold Township High School’s Felix Lawrence crossed the finish line in 52.12.

That’s why it was so hard to tell who won. The rivals were literally close enough to smell each other.

But that’s exactly how Berberena expected it to be. Lawrence did, after all, beat Berberena in the 400-meter hurdles event at the state sectional championship. On May 24 in Howell, Lawrence finished in 54.06 and Berberena crossed in 54.29.

North Brunswick’s spring track and field coach, John Viotto, thought the state sectional loss motivated Berberena during practice the next week.

“He was more focused,” Viotto said. “This was a little bit of revenge for him.”

The junior wanted to spring off the starting line and put Lawrence in a hole. He knew that Lawrence would use his long legs and strides to move faster as the race went on.

But the Freehold Township senior led by three meters going into the last hurdle.

“I just had to push as hard as I could,” he said.

In doing so, Berberena didn’t just edge Lawrence. He also recorded the fastest 400-meter hurdle time in New Jersey for the 2019 season.

A week later, on June 8 at Northern Burlington County Regional High School in Columbus, in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, Berberena again triumphed in the 400-meter hurdles event, beating 31 other competitors with a time of 52.23.

“Ramy’s goal is to be No. 1 in the state,” Viotto said before the meet.

At Northern Burlington, he accomplished that goal.

Berberena was not the only runner in the area to triumph at the state group championship meet.

South Brunswick High School’s Javier Santiago won the state pole vault title with a 15-00.00.

Santiago defeated 15 other athletes in the final at Franklin High School. Like Berberena, he also triumphed over an adversary who prevented him from winning the state sectional title one week earlier at Howell.

The South Brunswick junior finished second in the sectional pole vault final, to West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South senior Mark Sabin. But Sabin dropped to fifth in the state group pole vault event.

Santiago leapfrogged his rival by increasing his distance by a whole foot, from 14-00.00 in the state sectional meet to 15-00.00 at the state group championship.

The junior placed third in the pole vault at the Meet of Champions on June 8.