After WPIAL 3-peat, PIAA title, Hampton runners celebrate ‘incredible’ season

Saturday, November 11, 2023 | 11:01 AM

On their way home from the PIAA Class 2A cross country championships in Hershey, the Hampton boys were met at the turnpike by township fire trucks and escorted to the high school three miles down Route 8.

Their long journey ended in style.

The Talbots, coming off their third consecutive WPIAL championship, capped a momentous season with the first state title in program history Nov. 4.

Led by senior Dale Hall’s fourth-place finish, the Talbots combined top-end talent and roster-wide depth to total 66 points and easily outdistance District 10 power and defending state champion Grove City (89).

“It has been a very long climb, and I am very thankful for it,” said Hall, who went from finishing 60th at the WPIAL finals as a freshman to becoming the top runner on the state champion. “When we saw (the scores), we all kind of just lost our minds.”

Hall, a Liberty (Va.) recruit, covered the 3.1-mile course in 16 minutes, 12 seconds for the best finish by a Hampton runner since 1991 (Derek Seiling, third). Hall had a lot of help as the Talbots runners joined boys soccer and boys swimming as the only Hampton teams to win a state title in school history.

Junior Christopher Belch placed 11th in 16:29 followed by senior Jacob Bonnar (27th in 16:57), senior Layne Haught (52nd in 17:29) and junior Nathan Gardner (54th in 17:30) as point scorers for the Talbots. Freshmen Josh Wukitch (84th in 17:55) and Lu Santos (164th in 18:48) also ran for Hampton in their first state meets.

“It was incredible,” coach Dean Longwell said. “It was so cool watching them celebrate. All that time that they put in. The process … is more than half the fun and watching it come to fruition with a state title made it amazing.”

The Talbots had been focused on Hershey since placing fourth at the PIAA finals last season. They returned their top seven runners and tuned up for the PIAAs with a sparkling regular season and a dominating effort at the WPIAL championships.

“We circled Nov. 4, 2023, on the afternoon of Nov. 3, 2022,” said 14th-year coach Longwell, referring to last year’s PIAA finals. “That’s what we were shooting for for the past year.”

Hampton rolled to its third consecutive WPIAL title Oct. 26 at White Oak Park, finishing with 59 points. Beaver was a distant second at 119. Three Hampton runners placed in the top six (Hall second, Belch fourth and Bonnar sixth), and Wukitch (14th) was the only freshman in the WPIAL top 20. Gardner rounded out the Talbots’ top five in 33rd place as they joined boys swimming (1997-99) as the only teams in school history to win three consecutive WPIAL crowns.

“Cross country is a really tough sport in that you can’t have one or two great athletes who can carry a team, like you can in basketball or something,” Hall said. “You have to have five guys who are really good to win.”

The Talbots came a long way since finishing 11th in the WPIAL in 2020. They placed seventh in the state in ‘21 and a distant fourth last year. Grove City had beaten the Talbots at an invitational in early October, but Hampton prevailed with the biggest prize at stake.

“If you would have told me in 2020, during the pandemic, that this is where we would have been, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Longwell said. “These past three years, especially this year, have been quite the dream.”

The Hampton girls placed fourth at the WPIAL championships, led by junior Kevyn Fish (13th), junior Abby Hall (18th) and freshman Claire McKinney (24th). All three runners qualified for the PIAA meet, with Fish finishing 54th among 249 runners. Hall was 139th and McKinney 143rd. Aquinas Academy senior Alexis Abbett took 11th in the PIAA Class A race.

Hampton’s PIAA qualifiers returned from Hershey in a pair of minivans and were surprised to see the fire trucks and police cars awaiting them as they exited the turnpike. When they arrived at the school, they were joined by Hampton’s top-ranked girl’s volleyball team, which had just returned from winning its first WPIAL championship.

“It was a pretty cool, big celebration,” Hall said. “What better way to end your season?”


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