Defending state champ leads talented Hampton track team

Saturday, March 23, 2024 | 11:01 AM

Hampton track star Dale Hall enters his senior season in the unusual position of being a reigning state champion and an underdog, all at the same time.

Hall, who last spring won the PIAA Class 3A 1,600-meter title as the No. 11 seed, has a pair of Notre Dame recruits, Butler’s Drew Griffith and Ringgold’s Ryan Pajak, determined to thwart his repeat bid later this spring.

“I think everyone is looking at them as the favorites,” Hall said. “Even though I’m technically defending, I am still the underdog from that perspective.”

Griffith and Pajak, two of the nation’s fastest high school two-milers, are returning after finishing 1-2 in the 1,600 at the WPIAL championships and 2-3 at states, right behind Hall.

Hampton coach Heather Dietz said Hall, who placed 10th in the 3,200 at the 2024 Nike Indoor Nationals earlier this month in New York City, “can’t take a day off.”

“He definitely needs to stay focused and work hard and show them that he can do it,” Dietz said. “I think they have the strength in the longer distances, where I think Dale has that speed component where he is really strong and can give them a run for their money.”

Hall, a Liberty (Va.) recruit, is the leader of a Hampton boys track team blessed with solid numbers and distance runners. The top eight boys from Hampton’s 2023 PIAA Class 2A cross country champion are on the track team, including Hall and fellow seniors Jacob Bonnar, Chris Belch and Layne Haught.

That quartet will make up the 3,200 relay team, which looks to improve on last year’s third-place WPIAL finish.

Other athletes on the boys team include junior hurdler Ray Kirsopp, senior sprinter A.J. Prodente and sophomore jumper Willie Haselrig.

“I definitely think we can be competitive in our dual meets,” Dietz said. “I don’t know if we will come out and win the section. But I think we will be competitive.”

Kirsopp, who will compete in the 200-meter dash, the 110 high hurdles and the high jump, is optimistic for his second year of organized track.

“I think we will do very good again,” Kirsopp said. “I did it last year because I was big friends with the senior class and I wanted to hang out with them before they went to college. But this year I started getting more into it.”

The Talbots are scheduled to open the season April 4 against visiting Section 4-3A foes Highlands and Mars.

The boys and girls teams each reached the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs last season, but there is a gap between them this season. Of the 70-plus athletes in the program, only 24 are girls.

“We have a huge boys team,” Dietz said. “Our girls team is rather small.”

The girls return just one runner, junior Kevyn Fish, from their WPIAL Class 3A champion 3,200 relay team. Ava Vitiello and Teresa Grimm graduated and senior Kathleen Milon didn’t come out for track this year. Fish will be joined by Hall’s younger sisters, junior Abby and freshman Rebekah, and freshman Claire McKinney on the 3,200 relay team. Freshman Karina Bonnar is also a promising young runner.

Junior Carolyn Clutter is the Talbots’ primary thrower, and sophomore Sophie Shelkey is the top jumper.

Clutter began track and field in eighth grade — “I just kind of started throwing by chance” — and competes in the javelin, discus and shot put. Her top event is javelin.

“Halfway through last year, the footwork clicked and I’ve been more consistent with it,” Clutter said. “I feel like I could (make WPIALs) for javelin.”

While the 1,600 remains Hall’s best event, he said this season he will train more in the 800 rather than the 3,200. It will allow him to take advantage of his natural speed and, as a benefit, avoid a two-mile event dominated by nationally ranked Griffith and Pajak.

Hall ran the 1,600 in four minutes, 8.52 seconds last year to become the first PIAA champion from Hampton — boy or girl — in 41 years and break a 1,600 school record set by Mike England in 1978.

Hall bristled at the notion that last year’s PIAA win was a lucky chance — “A mile is too long for anything to be a fluke” — and he anticipates the challenges this spring.

“I’m not looking at it as added pressure to defend the state title,” he said. “I’m just looking at it as I really want to win it, and I’m going to give it everything I have to do that.”


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