Matt Bernadowski arrived last weekend at Shippensburg University as the WPIAL 110-meter hurdle champion and No. 1 seed at the PIAA Class AAA track championships.
And although Bernadowski left with a silver medal, he still had a golden season.
Bernadowski, a senior at Elizabeth Forward, concluded an outstanding track career with his best finish ever at the PIAA championships. A year after finishing third in the 110 hurdles, Bernadowski placed second after he was beaten out by Gateway senior Montae Nicholson just one week after beating Nicholson at the WPIAL championships.
Bernadowski said he felt a sense of accomplishment finishing second, but added that falling short of the title has him a bit disappointed.
"You can never be satisfied until you're on top," said Bernadowski, an Elizabeth Township resident. "I'm happy with how I did, but I don't feel like I did what I wanted to do."
At the WPIAL championships, Bernadowski did exactly what he wanted to do in the rainy weather at Baldwin High School. Not only did he win the title in the 110 hurdles, but he did so with a meet-record time of 14 seconds. Nicholson ran a 14.08 to finish second.
Bernadowski said that performance stands out as one of the most memorable accomplishments of his career.
"The conditions weren't good, but I ran the best race of my life," Bernadowski said. "Coming in, I wanted to win but also break the record. I did both. It's up there with some of the top moments of life."
Winning the PIAA title was Bernadowski's top priority last weekend. He finished third in the semifinal heat after running a 14.22.
That was fifth-best among the eight runners who qualified for the final. His time dipped just a little in the final when he ran a 14.25. Nicholson blew through the field to win the competition with a 14.02. South Fayette junior Mitch Valko (14.67) finished fifth and North Allegheny senior Isaac Fritz (14.87) was seventh.
"[Nicholson] just had the cleaner race, which you really need to do to win," Bernadowski said.
The race was the latest in a strong, yet friendly rivalry between two athletes who have been among the top hurdlers in the WPIAL the past two years. The two have had some battles in multiple invitationals and WPIAL and PIAA championships. As juniors, Nicholson set a then-meet record in edging out runner-up Bernadowski in the WPIAL final. Bernadowski then broke Nicholson's record a year later.
"I guess you could call it a rivalry, but it's more about pushing each other," Bernadowski said. "We're good friends, but it's about the two of us getting better."
Nicholson will play football and run track at Michigan State.
Bernadowski's silver-medal finish at the PIAA championships capped what was an excellent senior year for him athletically, as he also excelled in football and basketball.
His breakout football season saw him develop into one of the most electrifying players in the WPIAL. His 6-foot-2 frame paired with his outstanding speed made him a blur to try to run down. He scored 21 touchdowns, including four on punt returns and two on kickoff returns. He had 29 receptions for 758 yards (26.1 yards per catch). Bernadowski was named second-team all-state and to the Post-Gazette's South Xtra Fabulous 22 team, along with helping Elizabeth Forward reach the postseason for the second year in a row.
In the winter, Bernadowski was a starter for the Elizabeth Forward basketball team. He frequently scored in double figures and played a key role in the Warriors going 20-4 and advancing to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals.
"It was a great senior year," Bernadowski said. "Starting in football when I didn't know I would do that good, and then it went to basketball and then to track season."
Bernadowski, who previously lived in Woodbridge, Va., before beginning classes at Elizabeth Forward his sophomore year, has yet to decide where he will attend college. He plans on running track and playing football at a Division I school.