National Masters champions: Bernardni & Musselman team up to win title

By on June 20, 2018
Lititz’s Doug Bernardini (right) and his doubles partner Pat Musselman are shown with their gold medals after winning their division at the Pennsylvania State Doubles Championships earlier this year.

Lititz’s Doug Bernardini (right) and his doubles partner Pat Musselman are shown with their gold medals after winning their division at the Pennsylvania State Doubles Championships earlier this year.

Lititz’s Doug Bernardini is competitive by nature.

A Division-One soccer recruit growing up in Queens, N.Y., he went on to play at St. John’s.

Sadly, his college career was cut short due to a horrific car accident.

But Bernardini has landed on his feet.

Shortly after moving to Lititz in 2002, he picked up the sport of racquetball and hasn’t turned back.

In fact, with his run to the semi-finals at the International Racquetball Tour’s Syosset Open in New York, held May 19-20, Bernardini improved his world ranking from 1,200th to 397th overall.

“It was very entertaining and shocking to a lot of people,” said Bernardini, who celebrated his 52nd birthday this month. “It’s my best world ranking I’ve ever had. And it was a personal goal of mine to make it into the top 500, so I’m happy.”

Competing in the Men’s Elite Division, an open-age category just under the pros, he battled a 17-year-old Junior National champ from Mexico in the final four, but fell 15-12, 15-13. But along the way, Bernardini knocked off the players ranked 352nd and 398th in the world.

“Really, I think I’m playing the best I’ve ever played right now,” he remarked.

It’s no coincidence that Bernardini has dropped about 25 pounds since the end of last summer.

“I made a real conscious effort in August to get extra time in the gym, getting into real peak shape, and it’s paid off a lot,” he said.

The results speak for themselves.

Coming off a third-place finish in his age division at the U.S. Open last October at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., Bernardini and his doubles partner Pat Musselman, of Allentown, took home top honors in early January at the PA State Doubles Championships in the mixed event’s overall open age group in York.

“That was very big,” Bernardini said. “There were, like, 14 really strong teams from here (PA), Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and they all came up.”

Still riding a high from that win, he got a phone call from Musselman about the National Masters Tournament being held in Warren, N.J. in early May. But with his daughter, Olivia, going to prom that Saturday night and son, Doug Jr., holding an engagement party, Bernardini was hesitant.

“I said, “Pat, I don’t know if I can do it,’” he said.

Bernardini was still having his doubts when he bumped into Pete Holden at the York Spring Shootout. The N.J. Racquetball board member was urging him to play, and when Bernardini explained his dilemma, the wheels were put in motion.

“Pete goes, ‘E-mail me what your time constraints are. We’ll schedule it that you’re (able to play),’” Bernardini said. “What’s nice is, it’s not just a straight bracket. You play everybody in the division round-robin. So they e-mailed me back and said they had everything worked out. I told my wife (Nancy) and she was like, ‘If you mess this up, you and that racquetball bag, you’re out.’ But it fell into place. It couldn’t have come off better.”

The Bernardini/Musselman team played 10 matches in three days in the 50 Open Mixed Doubles Division, and en route to going unbeaten while claiming the title, they took 19 of 20 games overall.

“Thursday morning at 8 o’clock, I think we lost 15-12,” Bernardini recalled. “We got off the court and looked at each other, like, ‘We shouldn’t lose to those guys.’ So we said, ‘We need to win (the second game) and we need to hold them under 12 so we have more points for the two games.’ From there, we went out and nobody took a game for us.”

Facing each team twice in the round-robin, they were surprised that their opponents didn’t make more adjustments in the second meeting.

“We had two very, very strong teams that we had to face twice,” Bernardini remarked. “The second time around, we’re looking at each other going, ‘OK, what are they going to change? What are they going to try to do now?’ And there wasn’t anything, which was kinda shocking because we’re always talking to each other, like, ‘OK, we need to do this, we need to do that, we need to change this.’”

In the end, Bernardini and Musselman beat out the second-place Gladys Leonard/Brian McCarty team, of Alexandria, Va., for the championship.

“I wanted to win something on a national level. It was pretty big because it was the culmination of all the hard work throughout the year,” Bernardini said. “It’s not overloaded with teams, but when you go to these national events, anyone who’s giving up four or five days to play, they’re all players.”

As Holden will tell you, Bernardini is definitely a player. Being a little older than him at 66 years of age, Holden said that he has never had the “good fortune” to play with or against Bernardini. But they met about a year ago and quickly struck up a friendship.

“The fun thing about racquetball is, I’ve been doing it a long time and you can meet people in one tournament and it’s like you’ve known them a lifetime,” Holden said. “He’s kinda one of those guys.”

Holden describes Bernardini as a very good racquetball player.

“And (Doug’s) also very entertaining,” he said. “I’m not quite as good as he is, but I consider myself pretty entertaining. As soon as I saw him, he’s fiery and he gets very enthusiastic, but he’s a tremendous sport and he’s a really good guy. So you put all those together and you’ve got a winning combination.”

Self-employed for Top Shelf Meats and Seafood home food delivery, Bernardini has flexibility in his schedule. This allows him to get his training done, as well as travel to various tournaments.

“I get to set my own hours,” he said. “I go to LA Fitness, I go to the recCenter, and I bounce back-and-forth, which is nice.”

Admittedly, Bernardini is not making a lot of money playing racquetball. But what keeps him pushing forward is his competitive fire.

“I’ve always prided myself on being an athlete and it’s just that drive, trying to reach the different levels,” he said. “I like trying to get better.”

Having played in the U.S. Open three of the last four years, his goal is to return there again this fall.

“I have to play down a little bit in the 45A (age group) because the next jump is 55,” Bernardini said. “I’m at the longer end of 45, so naturally, I’m licking my chops going, ‘OK, when I’m 55, I’ll be the young guy in the division and I’ll get them all then.’ That’s a kickoff to the season and it starts with the biggest tournament of the years. It’s a phenomenal event. And once you start playing big events like that, it’s all you want to play.”

Three corporate sponsors help Bernardini with his expenses, including Gearbox Racquetball, based out of San Diego, Calif.

“They made me the authorized dealer here in Pennsylvania for racquetball and pickleball. So I sell a lot of equipment for them. They take care of me and I take care of them,” he said.

The others are Court Grabbers — a piece of equipment which goes on sneakers and provides traction for all indoor court sports — and Rijuice, a local company which makes juice from Lancaster fruits and vegetables.

“They supply me through the year with everything I need to drink and stay healthy,” Bernardini said. “(The sponsors) help me out tremendously.”

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