North Brunswick’s Berberena wins state title in 400-meter hurdles event

Ramy Berberena is the best 400-meter hurdler in New Jersey, and one of the best in the entire country.

That is how the junior will end his second to last track and field year at North Brunswick Township High School.

On June 8 at Northern Burlington County Regional High School in Columbus, Berberena won the 400-meter hurdles state title at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. He finished the final in 52.23.

But that time wasn’t even as good as the time he posted the week before, on June 1 at Franklin High School in Somerset. In the NJSIAA Group 4 championship, Berberena won the 400-meter hurdles title with a final time of 52.10, the second fastest mark in the country for the 2019 season.

Both victories capped a scintillating year for Berberena, in which he also broke eight individual school records between the winter and spring track seasons.

But the junior, who plays football for the Raiders in the fall, really lives for the 400-meter hurdles race. The event requires athletes to run at full speed for a significant distance while jumping, over and over again, on a dime. It’s not unlike being a wide receiver in football, which Berberena is.

For the junior, both sports complement each other. And the 400-meter hurdles does not seem as challenging after sprinting and leaping in full pads, while trying to avoid big hits.

“The football experience definitely helps him,” said John Viotto, North Brunswick’s track and field coach.

Playing multiple sports turned Berberena into a well rounded athlete. But it was a formidable rival, Freehold Township High School senior Felix Lawrence, who pushed Berberena to a new level in his best event.

On May 24 at Howell High School, in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional meet, Lawrence beat Berberena in the 400-meter hurdles final. Lawrence crossed the finish line in 54.06, while Berberena came in 00.23 seconds later.

It was a photo finish, and a crushing defeat for the North Brunswick junior. It drove him to practice harder in the ensuing weeks and to dig deeper on the home stretches of championship races.

In the state group meet and in the Meet of Champions, Berberena came from behind to pass Lawrence near the finish line. And it’s not like Lawrence faded. The North Brunswick dynamo just ran faster.

After his Meet of Champions victory, while gasping for air, Berberena talked about how much better Lawrence made him.

“Every time I race him I get a personal record,” Berberena said. “He pushes me every single time we get on that line. He turns me up.”

All that said, Berberena was not surprised by his victories. He pushed himself to a new level, too, and fully expected to win.

“I clearly wanted it,” he said. “I told coach, ‘I’m going to win.'”

As one of the best hurdlers in the country, Berberena had a chance to win on a national level as well. On June 16 in Greensboro, N.C., the junior raced in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet.

“He can win,” Viotto said before the race. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Berberena nearly did, finishing second with a time of 51.66.

Beyond that, Berberena should also be in line for a great senior year in 2019-20.

“I’m sure he’ll be extremely successful in the winter and spring again,” Viotto said. “He’ll also figure out what he wants to do beyond high school.”