To say Oneonta State senior Sean Bernstein is the fastest person ever with ties to The Daily Star’s circulation area is difficult to quantify.
But if there’s been somebody faster in these parts, his identity has been well concealed.
Though he’s from Baldwinsville, Bernstein has spent the last four years running track at O-State.
In high school, Bernstein played lacrosse in the spring until his freshman year.
He switched to track as a sophomore.
But even as he graduated, Bernstein’s sprinting resume didn’t jump off the page. He’d run 11 seconds and change in the 100 meters and 22-plus in the 200.
“He certainly wasn’t a superstar coming out of high school,” Red Dragons coach Matt LoPiccolo said.
Nor did the stopwatch reveal anything all too eye-popping during Bernstein’s freshman and sophomore seasons at O-State.
“I think the summer going into my junior year, I started working on technique, eating healthier and getting more sleep,” said Bernstein, who’ll compete for the final time at O-State in the NCAA Division III meet today through Saturday at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “It’s one of those things that I’ve always felt 10 years from now, I wanted to look back and know I did everything I could to be the best athlete I could be.”
Over the next three days, Bernstein will try to defend his D-III title in the 200, improve on his second-place finish in the 100 from last year’s nationals and lead O-State’s 400 relay team.
The two numbers that best describe Bernstein’s ascent as a sprinter are 10.32 and 20.80. Both are school records by a long shot, with the latter sewing up Bernstein’s national title in the 200 last spring.
The former came last weekend en route to victory in the 100 at the ECAC Division III meet.
For those thinking those times are merely D-III good, consider this: Bernstein’s 100 time would have tied for seventh place and his 200 time would have placed him fourth in the Southeastern Conference championships held earlier this month.
Anyone who’s watched SEC football on Saturday afternoons in the fall knows that conference is home to plenty of speedy people.
LoPiccolo said Bernstein’s 200 clocking at last year’s nationals just missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials.
“It’s been quite the transformation,” LoPiccolo said. “He’s worked on weight lifting and running mechanics, and he’s putting it all together.”
Asked if four years ago if someone had told him he’d run a 10.32 100 or a 20.80 200 before his days at O-State concluded, Bernstein said: “I would have not believed it. I would have thought I’d improve but not to this point.”
Even with his alarming performances, national titles are anything but a lock for Bernstein this time around.
While setting a D-III championship meet record in the 200 a year ago at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in California, Bernstein edged Wisconsin Eau Claire freshman Thurgood Dennis by a tenth of a second.
At the same meet, he finished second in the 100 in 10.44 _ .20 behind junior Dominque Kone of Colby and three-hundredths of a second in front of Dennis.
“At the top of Division III, there are a lot of guys who could be scholarship athletes,” LoPiccolo said. “You have to be really good to win nationals.”
Dennis and Bernstein are seeded 1-2, respectively, in the 100 and 200 this week. Dennis’ seed times are 10.30 in the 100 and 20.96 in the 200. Bernstein’s fastest clocking in the 200 this season is 20.97. Greenville sophomore Bruce Gray is seeded third at 20.98.
“It’s a friendly competition,” Bernstein said of going against Dennis. “I’ve seen him two years in a row now. It’s definitely a rivalry.”
LoPiccolo said Bernstein’s top-end speed is the secret to his success.
“He has higher maximum velocity and he does run people down,” LoPiccolo said. “That’s why he won the 200 last year. He had a little bit longer to catch them. We spent the fall working on his first step and reaction time (in the blocks), and he has improved.”
LoPiccolo added that Bernstein’s second-place finish in the 60 at the indoor nationals this season is proof he’s improved his start.
“He had a really good start when he ran the 10.32,” he said. “He’s kind of putting it together.”
Bernstein will be joined by freshmen Tom Wheeler, Joe Carr and Jake Alviene on O-State’s 400 relay team, which is seeded sixth with a school-record time of 41.22. The host school is seeded first at 40.52.
“I honestly think we have a lot of potential,” Bernstein said. “The three freshmen have so much potential. If we go out and put everything together, we’ll surprise people.”
Today, the 400 relay will run a preliminary at 5:15 p.m. and the 200 preliminary will start at 7 p.m.
The 100 preliminary will begin at 7:50 p.m. Friday.
The final for the 400 relay is 3:40 p.m. Saturday. The 100 and 200 finals will take place at 5:10 and 6:20 p.m., respectively, Saturday.
Alviene also will compete in the 110 hurdles and Schenevus graduate Pat Weinert will throw the hammer throw.
“Between winning and running that time, it took a while for everything to sink in,” Bernstein said of last year’s title in the 200. “After last year, I wanted to see what I could do this year.
“When I really think about it, it is incredible,” Bernstein continued of his success. “Right now, I’m not thinking about times. I’m thinking of running the best race I can.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.