Future bright for Hampton cross country teams

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Saturday, November 20, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton boys and girls cross country teams each have a lot to look forward to next season.

For the boys, it’s where they have been, and for the girls, it’s where they are going.

The boys will return five of their top runners from the most successful season in program history, while the girls will be making a move to Class 2A after competing in the large-school Class 3A.

Girls coach Heather Dietz learned about the realignment — the boys have been competing in Class 2A the past two seasons — in a Nov. 10 text from athletic director Bill Cardone.

Based on the PIAA classification parameters, the school’s female enrollment in grades 9-11 just slipped under the cutoff for Class 3A.

“We got a text from (Cardone) that said, ‘Girls are Class 2A next year’ with a smiley face,” Dietz said. “We knew it was a possibility. I was just patiently waiting and was super excited.

“I think that will give the girls some added confidence.”

While both teams are expected to remain in Class 3A sections for their regular-season meets — facing the likes of North Allegheny, Butler and Seneca Valley — they will compete in the same division at in-season invitationals and the WPIAL and PIAA championships.

“It will be nice to be completely with the boys again and not have to kind of juggle that,” Dietz said. “That was a challenge.”

The Hampton boys team met few challengers in Class 2A this past season and looks to get even better. The Talbots won the first WPIAL cross country title in program history Oct. 28 at Cal (Pa.) and then placed seventh in the PIAA Class 2A championships Nov. 6 in Hershey, their best-ever finish at states. They return their top three runners and five of their top seven.

“We’re still pretty young,” boys coach Dean Longwell said. “(But) now we have a target on our back. I told them at states to enjoy the experience but don’t take it for granted. I think they are hungry for more and will continue to work hard.”

Sophomore Nathan Garrett was the Talbots’ top finisher at the PIAA championships, placing 19th out of 236 Class 2A runners with a time of 17 minutes, 20.6 seconds. It was the best finish by a Talbots boy at states since Hampton Hall of Famer Derek Seiling placed third in 1991.

Freshman Chris Belch placed 27th. Only two Talbots in the past 26 years have finished higher — Garrett and Shane Cotter (25th) in 1995.

“It was great, just being there as a team and for us to be so successful,” Garrett said. “It was just so cool to be a part of that.”

Sophomore Jacob Bonnar (44th), who was named the team MVP, senior Jackson McGrath (53rd) and sophomore Dale Hall (55th) also finished as top-five runners among the Talbots. Other Hampton runners were senior Quentin Romero-Lauro (69th) and freshman Nathan Gardner (83rd).

The Talbots’ rise was unexpected. They had placed 11th in the WPIAL championships in 2020, their first year back in Class 2A. During their WPIAL gold-medal winning performance last month, all five of the Talbots’ top runners were either freshmen or sophomores.

“Coming from 11th in district last year to seventh in the state, we were just really excited,” McGrath said. “And even for future years to come, we have a solid team.”

A pair of Hampton girls also competed at Hershey after qualifying with impressive showings at the WPIAL Class 3A championships.

Freshman Kevyn Fish, despite battling a cold, placed 57th out of 238 girls with a time of 20:16.9. Her finish was the best by a Hampton girl since 2013 (Gina Alm, 40th) and the best by a Talbots freshman in 24 years (Erin Dannley, 47th, in 1997).

Junior Ava Vitiello, who had finished 10th in the WPIAL, settled for 111th while also running at less than her best.

“Kevyn was sick, and Ava wasn’t feeling 100%,” Dietz said. “So I don’t think they ran as well as they had hoped. They still did well.”

The girls will graduate six seniors — Leah Beam, Maddie Fitzgerald, Rachel Dolan, Samantha Eaton, Liana Suski and Hope Walton. The boys also lose a half-dozen runners — McGrath, Romero-Lauro, Mike Belch, Alan Wolfe, Zach Krills and Ryan Leyes.

Garrett said the Talbots will not sneak up on anyone next season.

“(This season) we really flew under the radar, literally,” he said. “People are going to see that we are a young team and see that we had a lot of success this year and with another year of experience, it will help a lot for us. They will definitely see us coming.”

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