Nico Bernard had an important job as the anchor of Scarsdale’s 4x800-meter relay in the winter and spring. His goal was to cross the finish line before the opposing anchors, but despite being the team’s fastest leg, he could only achieve his objective if everyone on the team stepped up.
At the New York State Championships Saturday, Bernard and his three teammates — Daniel Asher, Eric Jacobson and D.J. Matusz in order ahead of him — did just that as they shattered the school record they set at the Warwick Invitation and set a new Westchester County mark in placing first in the state and Federation.
“When I looked at the splits from Warwick I knew if we all did our job we could do it and everyone exceeded their jobs,” Bernard said. “In the moment I wasn’t really thinking about first. I was just exhausted. Once I was able to catch my breath I was really happy.”
Rival Arlington was the runner-up in 7:46.36 to Scarsdale’s 7:43.59.
“Everybody did their job to put him in that position every single time,” coach Vinny Modafferi said. “If he got the baton right by the Rizzo brother [from Arlington] it would have been a completely different race. It would have been difficult for him. Rizzo ran 1:50, Nico ran 1:52. Both times are unbelievable.
“Rizzo is one of the best in the nation, so if the other three guys didn’t put Nico in that position he wasn’t going to be able to go out as fast as he did to keep Arlington tired coming into the second lap and then being able to pull away in the last 150. It was a combination of all four doing a perfect job in their respective legs that puts him in position. He just happens to be the guy who crosses the finish line.”
All four Scarsdale runners broke 2 minutes: Asher in 1:59.43, Jacobson 1:54.02, Matusz 1:57.43, Bernard 1:52.71.
“Everyone ran their leg as hard as they could,” Jacobson said. “I think all four of us ran personal bests for the relay, so I think we all did our jobs just to make sure the next guy was set up for a good opportunity to put us in a position to win.”
While the times are nice, the placement of each runner is the key.
“You’re not necessarily thinking about your own time — you’re thinking about your position in the race,” Modafferi said. “It’s a little bit more manageable mentally. For those who haven’t run the 800 all that long, they’re able to pick up on things quick. At states they were running like they were 10-year vets.”
With prom interfering with the state qualifier meet, the Raiders just needed to compete to qualify as they had the super standard time from Warwick a few days earlier. Scarsdale sent Shan Daniel, Erik Rizk, Jack McEvoy and Matusz to hold the starting team’s place.
Placing second at states in the winter with a lineup of Ward Bandsma, Jacobson, Matusz and Bernard motivated the team to come out victorious this spring.
“I think that was our main goal coming into the race to win it since we didn’t get there in the winter,” Jacobson said. “We just followed the training that our coach gave us and encouraged each other to work as hard as we could. We were keeping our goals in mind for when we were training and working.”
The 4x800 team got going in the winter because the coaches felt it had a better chance of succeeding at the state level than a 4x400, and with a couple of weeks to go this spring, Coach Modafferi replaced Bandsma with Asher as the lead leg.
“It’s the way the season progressed with the runners,” Modafferi said. “We were just trying to put together a team that could be in contention to win the state meet. Ward was on in winter and he did a masterful job and he really worked hard… Daniel Asher was dropping times every race he went into [this spring].”
After not doing a fall sport and wrestling in the winter, junior Asher started running spring of freshman year. The last two years he’s done cross-country, winter and spring track, picking up distance running and loving it. He started with the mile and already broke five minutes as a freshman with a 4:53. He’s down to a 4:26 in the event.
“I was really dropping my mile time this year and I guess the coach saw I could have been a potential candidate for that 4x8,” Asher said. “Then I ran an open 800 and I did pretty well and I guess he considered me after that race.”
Asher loves both events, but the racing strategy is different. Joining the relay team just before states was “stressful, but fun.”
“I definitely was nervous in the beginning and I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been training hard this season and I knew I had the potential to do well,” Asher said. “It wasn’t that difficult for me to move into that 4x8. The team is very welcoming as well.”
“We knew that he was a hard worker and we trusted he could do it,” Bernard said. “It showed.”
At Warwick Asher was at a 2:04 leg and dropped about five seconds. He’s looking forward to nationals this weekend.
“Our goal right now is to get All-American and it would be amazing if we can get first,” Asher said. “It’s definitely a possibility.”
Senior Jacobson started running track spring of sophomore year and he’s done winter and spring ever since. Like many others joining the team, he did it for the workout.
“Then I guess it turned into something I enjoyed,” he said. “I loved training to be able to achieve something. It makes you a harder worker, gives you structure to your day. It’s really helped keep me focused with training and that translates into schoolwork and everything else.”
Seniors Bernard and Jacobson have been challenging each other for the past two years in every event from the 400 to the 1,000.
“We were there to push each other,” Bernard said. “It’s great having somebody who is at my level. I never thought then that we’d be doing this. It definitely took day-to-day effort. It was about pushing myself more and more.”
Jacobson will run at Fordham, Bernard at McGill.
“I know it’s a lot more intense at the next level, a lot more serious and as a freshman I’ll definitely be humbled,” Bernard said. “It’s ultimately going to make me a better runner.”
It’s been an impressive year for the track and field team, which hasn’t had proper facilities due to the unexpected construction at Butler Field and the track. The team practiced at the school as best it could and also went to neighboring schools like White Plains and Edgemont when they could.
“It would have been a game-changer,” Modafferi said. “It would have been a little less stressful, too. As long as we have it next year I’m a happy camper.”
The original 4x800 lineup placed seventh in a then-school record 7:49.43 at nationals indoors at the Armory in New York City. Outdoors will be in North Carolina this weekend.
“It’s their first time running at nationals outdoors,” Modafferi said. “They should place pretty high, but it’s really hard to go out to unfamiliar territory and to put together a race like that, especially with travel. As long as they go out there and they run for each other I think that’s a successful year. We won the state meet, so everything else from here is icing on the cake. Not to say that we’re not hungry for something else, but we let it come to us so they can run relaxed and confident.”
For Modafferi, even those who didn’t compete in the relay this year were an important part of getting Scarsdale to where it is now.
“We had a lot of kids come up this year in the 800, which will help us for next year,” he said. “If these guys didn’t have those training partners none of this would have happened. It’s not necessarily the four guys running on the track, even though they were the ones who actually did it. It’s everybody else around them pushing and feeding into the culture of the team.”
Also running at nationals is the girls sprint medley relay team of Yurami van Eer, Annabel Jacobs, Sierra Donovan and Sam Jahrmarkt.
The girls and boys are looking for one more chance to shine this spring.
“I’m looking forward to running in an even more competitive race to see how much faster we can go,” Jacobson said. “I know we have more in us. I’m hoping we’re able to achieve something on an even bigger stage.”