Back-to-back WPIAL cross country titles put Hampton in elite company

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Saturday, November 12, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Hampton’s boys cross country team is working on mini-­dynasty status.

The Talbots won the 2022 WPIAL Class 2A boys cross country championship Oct. 27 to become the first team to repeat in its division since Knoch in 2014-15.

“It was definitely a team goal,” Hampton coach Dean Longwell said. “The kids never once got complacent after winning last year and continued to work hard and stay focused on trying to repeat.”

And Hampton, which won the first section title in school history, doesn’t have a senior on its roster.

“The season went great,” Longwell said. “The boys won the section title, won two invitationals – the Red, White & Blue along with the Tri-State Invitational — and had the highest finish as a team in school history by finishing fourth at the state championships.”

The Talbots zeroed in on first place in the WPIAL 2A race at Cal (Pa.) with a 94-point total, 40 points better than runner-up Blackhawk (134) and 33 better than third-place Uniontown (137). Montour and New Castle rounded out the top five.

Hampton advanced to the PIAA championships held Nov. 5 at Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey, where it placed fourth in 2A and which is believed to be the highest finish in school history. The Talbots ended up seventh last year.

“The team performed well at the state meet,” said junior Dale Hall, the Talbots’ top runner. “It’s a really tough meet to run in. It goes out at an aggressive pace, there is the best competition in the state, and on top of that, there is a lot of pressure felt by individuals.

“We ran well and got fourth place. A few guys had an off day, but even with that, we were only 11 points out of second. It’ll be exciting to see what we can do next year.”

Hampton was paced at the WPIAL finals by Hall’s 16:27.3 time, good for fifth place in the individual standings.

“It was really exciting to crack the top five and be able to compete with guys who had been way better than me last year,” Hall said. “It’s a little disappointing that I let Uniontown’s and Blackhawk’s No. 1 guys beat me, since we were competing with them for the title and those points could have made a difference. However, the rest of the team stepped up and secured us the victory.

“I am pleased with my individual performance at WPIALs. I had a 40-second course PR at the championship meet.”

Hall has improved his performance at the WPIAL championship meet from 60th place as a freshman to 13th place as a junior. Hall also earned all-state status with his 14th-place showing at the state meet.

Hall has a 4.38 GPA and plays recreational basketball in the winter. He also helps lead his school’s Bible club.

Four of the Talbots’ top five runners returned this season from the school’s first WPIAL 2A cross country championship.

Along with Hall, they are junior Jacob Bonnar, who placed a team-best seventh at the 2021 WPIAL finals, and sophomores Chris Belch and Nathan Gardner.

Belch placed ninth in 16:59.3 at the 2022 WPIAL championships, improving from 17th place a year ago.

“Both Dale and Chris had strong performances at the WPIAL meet,” Gardiner said. “They have been running 1-2 for the whole season and they spend time concentrating on the little things to help get better. They spend extra time stretching, making sure they’re getting enough sleep, etc.”

Bonner crossed the finish line 13th with a 17:18.6 showing while Gardner, who was coming off a late-season injury, placed 46th in 18:19.6.

Junior Layne Haught made a big splash for the Talbots with a 17:33.3 effort and 21st-place finish.

“I think we looked strong in our WPIAL repeat title. Cal U is a tough course, and the whole team stepped up, and we ended up impressing ourselves with the margin of victory,” Hall said. “Nathan Gardner ran a really smart, tactical race to seal the victory.

“We were confident coming in that we could repeat if we gave it our best, and I think it showed a lot of hard work from the entire season paying off.”

Hall hopes to be able to set a goal of winning a WPIAL title next season.

“Ryan Pajak, the athlete who won this year, is a junior and placed second at the state meet,” Hall said. “He is an incredible runner, and I honestly didn’t stand a chance beating him in cross country this season. I would definitely like to try and catch him by next year, but that will be a tall task.”

Two other leading runners for the Talbots at the WPIAL finals were junior Liam Butler (18:31.34), and sophomore Mile McKinney (20:37.1).

“Our strength wasn’t just Dale and Chris,” Longwell said. “We had a strong top five with Jacob Bonnar, Layne Haught and our fifth went back and forth between Nathan Gardner and Liam Butler. Our No. 7 runner, Miles McKinney, also improved greatly from last year, improving his time by close to two minutes.”

Hampton’s girls team, one of its smallest in years, secured fifth place at this year’s WPIAL Class 2A meet.

Montour, with 157 points, won the race, followed by Beaver (91), Uniontown (108), North Catholic (171) and Hampton (183).

The Talbots were led once again by the 1-2 punch of senior Ava Vitiello and sophomore Kevyn Fish at the WPIAL meet with times of 19:16.7 and 19:34.9, good for fifth and sixth place. Vitiello and Fish improved from 11th and 13th at last year’s WPIAL meet. Both girls advanced to the PIAA meet in Hershey.

Rounding out the list of Hampton competitors at the WPIAL girls meet were senior Teresa Grimm (22:32), sophomore Abby Hall (22.51), junior Lydia Bailey (23:00), and seniors Kendall Solkovy (28:03) and Adrianna Grimm (23:18) — all top 75 finishers.

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