As Josh Matheny approached the starting blocks, AC/DC’s Thunderstruck blared throughout the speaker system. Less than a minute later, the Upper St. Clair senior astonished everybody in the Bucknell University Kinney Natatorium.
In winning his second straight 100-yard breaststroke race during the PIAA Class AAA swimming championships March 13-16, Matheny not only took down the state mark but he set a new National Federation of State High Schools record. In the prelims, Matheny lowered the PIAA mark of 53.67 set in 2000 by six-time Olympic medalist Brendon Hansen by a mere two-hundredths of a second. In the finals, however, he smashed the NFHS mark of 52.65 set in 2016 by Chandler Bray of Indiana with his winning time of 52.52.
“Amazing,” Mt. Lebanon coach Tom Donati said. “What that young kid has done is unbelievable. He’s extremely talented and driven and he’s only going to get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Matheny certainly plans to because he still has his sights set on breaking the national record of 51.62 set in 2016 by Max McMugh.
“That’s the ultimate record,” Matheny said as he explained the NFHS record is just for a different governing body of high school swimming to which Pennsylvania belongs. “That’s a goal set for another day but eventually I’ll take that down. Of course,” he said with a slight laugh. “By the end of high school, I hope to hold that record.”
While ever goal-oriented, Matheny did have time to relish his achievement before jaunting off to Florida to compete in the National Club Swimming Association’s Junior National Championships. Matheny will race in the 50, 100 and 200 breast events, the 200 and 400 IM races and the 200 backstroke.
“Just looking for best times, especially coming off a strong showing at states,” Matheny said were his objectives in the meet, which features the top swimmers from across the country.
Nevertheless, he was thrilled with his recent record.
“Achieving a goal is magical when it happens. I’m ecstatic,” he said.
While also a little “unbelievable” Matheny added, “It never gets old. It’s a big deal to break a state record, especially since it was 19 years old.”
While it took nearly two decades to reset the standard, the race was over in a blink of an eye.
“It was all a blur,” Matheny said.
But not so muddy that Matheny did not know what he was doing. When he took time to analyze his race, he noted he had “misjudged” his second wall and “glided” longer than he wanted to yet he still made a fast time.
“Every time I go fast, I always make mistakes and there are places to improve,” he explained. “When I dove into the water, I felt fast. I knew this was going to be special.”
Because of his relationship with his coach Dave Schraven, who excelled at Stanford, faster times and more special events are yet to come for Matheny. He hopes to one day swim for one of the top-ranked NCAA Division I programs and advance through Olympic Trials.
“After my race, Coach Dave said ‘good job’ but he also immediately brings up my errors because he knows I want to improve. We are firm believers in that you can always go faster than you just went. There’s always a time to celebrate but you also want to make improvements. Coach Dave is always supportive in the moment but I need to hear different ways that I can go faster. That helps me a lot. I want to swim faster.”
Matheny also swam pretty fast when he helped USC’s 200-yard individual medley relay team win a gold medal also at states. The team of Jack Fitzpatrick (back), Matheny (breast), Reese Samuel (butterfly) and Ryan Senchyshak (freestyle) won the event in 1:30.67, a touch ahead of North Allegheny, which finished second in 1:30.70.
“Winning the medley relay was really special,” Matheny said recalling how last year the Panthers were disqualified in the event. “We had to wait 365 days to achieve this goal so it was extremely exciting but also nerve-racking because, with four and five teams competing for the gold, it came down to hand touch.
“Jack swam an amazing leg and Ryan swam a crazy 50. Out of his mind,” Matheny continued. “He’s a freshman and was incredible to watch. He’s someone that I admire because he’s never satisfied like me. That is really cool.”
Cool, too, was standing on the podium with Fitzpatrick after the 200 IM. A Notre Dame recruit, Fitzpatrick took third in 1:47.70 while Matheny finished fourth in 1:49.
“That’s was exciting, too,” Matheny said. “It was a great state meet but there is still a lot of racing to do. After Florida, I’ll take a few days off, but then I’ll be back in the water because I’m not sure when you can ever be satisfied.”
Fitzpatrick finished runner-up in the 100 backstroke with a 47.67 time. Conestoga’s Brendan Burns won the race in 46.95. USC also placed sixth in the 400 free relay. Samuel, Fitzpatrick, Graham Kretschmar and Matheny comprised the unit.