Fresh start energizes talented, young Hampton cross country team

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Saturday, August 28, 2021 | 11:01 AM


A youthful Hampton girls cross country team is about to get even younger.

And probably a lot better.

The Talbots return five of their top seven runners from the WPIAL championships and welcome talented freshman Kevyn Fish into the fold.

“I’m really excited,” said sophomore Lydia Bailey, who as a ninth grader last season was the Talbots’ top finisher at the WPIAL Class 3A championship meet. “We are definitely going to have a really good team this year.”

The Talbots have only one senior among their likely top seven runners, Leah Beam, and many of them spent the spring and summer covering upwards of 30 miles a week at Hartwood Acres and North Park.

Joining Beam and Bailey are a quarter of juniors: Kendall Solkovy, twin sisters Adrianna Grimm (190th) and Teresa Grimm (176th) and Ava Vitiello, who is healthy after missing the second half of last season with physical issues.

“That is going to be the girls’ biggest challenge,” said coach Heather Dietz, entering her 16th season. “Staying healthy and injury free.”

Senior Maddie Fitzgerald is also expected to contribute for the Talbots, who open the season at the annual Red, White & Blue Classic on Sept. 11 at White Oak Park.

The best of the bunch might be someone who has never run in a varsity race. Fish has shown remarkable promise as a youngster, placing 27th out of 170 runners as a 12-year-old in the 2019 Hampton Rotary Firecracker 5K. Consider this: She was fourth among all female runners, crossing the finish line 6 1/2 minutes ahead of her then-16-year-old sister, former Hampton runner Kennedy Fish, and only 12 seconds behind Alissa Beam, a then 18-year-old Hampton graduate and runner for Saint Vincent College.

All that, at age 12.

In 2019, Fish posted the seventh-fastest time in the past six years on North Allegheny’s Marshall Middle School course.

“I think Kevyn will definitely pack a punch,” Dietz said. “I think she will be our No. 1 runner.”

Vitiello is feeling good after an array of ailments cut short her cross country season and hobbled her for part of her spring track season. She recovered in time to place 11th in the 1,600 at the 2021 WPIAL Class 3A track and field championships.

Beam will be the team leader and says she has company in that role after a covid-hindered 2020 season across the WPIAL.

“I’m really excited for that,” Beam said. “I feel like that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing. Because last year was a little weird, a lot of people stepped up into more of a leader role.”

Hampton, which expects to have about 17 runners on its roster, is one of the smallest schools in the WPIAL Class 3A and won’t be challenging for any titles in a section that includes North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley, the top three finishers at last year’s WPIAL Class 3A cross country championships. Hampton placed 26th out of 29 teams at last year’s WPIAL meet.

But the Talbots expect their offseason runs — some of which started at 6:30 a.m. — to translate into personal-best times and a competitive atmosphere.

“I think this year is going to go really well with a lot of people already having a year under their belt and even the freshmen coming up,” Beam said. “I think this year is going to be good.”

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