Coaching continuity helps Hampton track team enter season with confidence

Saturday, April 2, 2022 | 11:01 AM

When Derek Brinkley stepped down as Hampton track and field coach after 18 seasons this offseason, a priority for athletic director Bill Cardone was keeping the staff as intact as possible.

Assistant Heather Dietz, a long-time cross country coach who works with the track distance runners, offered to handle the top spot if necessary.

“We were talking about trying to keep things pretty much the same with the coaching staff, in terms of options,” Dietz said. “I told (Cardone) I would do it, if he needed it.”

Sure enough, she got the call.

Dietz, who has coached the Hampton girls cross country team for the past 19 years, was promoted to replace Brinkley and provide the much-sought-after staff continuity.

She was informed of her new role about three weeks before the start of the season.

“It was a very quick turnover,” said Dietz, a track assistant for the past six seasons. “I just have a bigger whistle. But it’s not that different. It’s just a lot more kids and more paperwork to manage. It’s fine. I’ve learned a lot of names in the past two weeks.”

Brinkley, an assistant football coach at his alma mater, North Allegheny, resigned to spend more time with his family. A former NCAA Division II national champion hurdler and a member of the North Allegheny Hall of Fame, Brinkley helped guide the Hampton boys team last season to its first section title since 1985.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Brinkley said. “But the time was right. I always said I’ll be missed for a little while. It will affect me much longer.”

The rest of the staff returns, including assistants Nick Panza (sprinters and relays), Joe Cangilla (horizontal jumpers), Matt Combi (throwers) and Kim Masarik (hurdles and high jump). Even track assistant Steve Sciullo, hired this offseason as the school’s football coach, is returning to help the throwers as time permits.

The top athletes on the boys team are senior Matt DeMatteo, who competed in the PIAA championships in three events last season; junior hurdler Joey Mayer; and a trio of sophomore distance runners — Jacob Bonnar, Nathan Garrett and Dale Hall — who ran last fall for the school’s WPIAL Class 2A championship cross country team.

They will try to help the Talbots overcome the loss of record-breaking runner Gage Galuska, the 2021 WPIAL Class 3A 400-meter champion, and defend their Section 4 title.

“They are definitely hungry to see if they can do it again,” Dietz said.

DeMatteo will compete in the 300-meter hurdles, 100-meter dash, triple jump and long jump. He won’t run any relays as he focuses on individual events to enhance his collegiate choices. A first-team all-conference defensive back for the football team, DeMatteo is considering Duquesne (track), James Madison (football) and Appalachian State (football walk-on).

“For college purposes, I wanted to try to better my times,” he said. “I kind of need to focus on individual events this year for the next level.”

DeMatteo placed fifth in the 300 hurdles at the WPIAL Class 3A championships last season and took ninth at the PIAA finals with a personal-best time of 39.95 seconds. He is shooting for the school record of 39.63 set by Matt Redshaw in 2008. DeMatteo also placed fourth in the WPIAL in the triple jump.

“I really want to hit low 38 seconds, maybe even high 37,” DeMatteo said of his 300 hurdles goal. “I think that will open up a lot of opportunity.”

On the girls side, sophomore Kathleen Milon is looking for improvement after an outstanding debut season. She placed sixth in the WPIAL Class 3A 400 meters with a time of 58.43 and took 18th in the PIAA as the only ninth-grader in the 33-girl field.

“I definitely want to beat that (time) this year,” Milon said. “I want to improve from last year and get under 58. We will see how that works. Improving my time is definitely big for me.”

The girls also return junior distance runner Ava Vitiello, who placed 11th in the WPIAL championships last season with a personal-best time of 5:24.67.

Other top girl runners are seniors Maddy Fitzgerald and Morgan Killian and junior Kendall Solkovy.

Dietz is working with a lot of depth in her first season as head coach. The team attracted 76 athletes on the roster, boys and girls combined.

“We were in high 60s, low 70s last year,” Dietz said. “So we definitely are right where I think we should be.”


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