Hampton boys eye WPIAL cross country 3-peat

Saturday, October 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Since last season’s fourth-place finish at states, the Hampton boys cross country team has been focused on a return trip to Hershey.

But one small hurdle remains — The WPIAL Class 2A championships.

The loaded Talbots are overwhelming favorites to claim their third consecutive district title Thursday (Oct. 26) at White Oak Park and become the first WPIAL Class 2A three-peat champion since Quaker Valley won six in a row from 2007-12.

“We’re not going to let up on the gas at all leading into it,” senior Layne Haught said. “We will treat it like WPIALs. It’s a championship race, and everyone is going out there to compete for the same thing. We’re not overlooking any team. Anything can happen.”

Said Hampton coach Dean Longwell, “The kids know that no one is just going to hand us the trophy.”

Despite the long-range goal of the PIAA championships — where District 10 power and defending state champion Grove City will await — the Talbots aren’t taking anything for granted at the WPIAL finals. Their top competition will likely come from Montour, which returned five of its top six runners from last year’s WPIAL fourth-place team and won the Red, White & Blue Classic Class 2A division in early September.

The Talbots raced up in Class 3A at the Red, White & Blue and finished second, behind only three-time defending PIAA Class 3A champion North Allegheny, and placing ahead of third-place, albeit shorthanded, Grove City.

“Everything has been going pretty good,” Longwell said. “Health was a big worry at the beginning of the season. … So far we’ve been good.”

The Red, White & Blue was the start of a sparkling regular season for the Talbots. They went a perfect 11-0 in Section 4-2A to defend their section crown. They placed first in Division I at the Boardman (Ohio) Invitational on Sept. 16 with 146 points, turning the tables on North Allegheny, which took third with 166 points. Hoover (Ohio) was second with 164.

Hampton senior Dale Hall was the overall winner in the 333-runner field at Boardman and won the John Sample Invitational on Oct. 7, helping the Talbots to a runner-up finish behind host Grove City.

At Grove City, five Talbots runners — Hall, junior Chris Belch, senior Jacob Bonnar, Haught and freshman Josh Wukitch — placed in the top 20. Their sixth-place runner, junior Nathan Gardner, wasn’t far behind, taking 24th. Grove City won with 41 points, Hampton was second with 52.

“We had circled Grove City on the calendar, but we didn’t really taper for it,” Longwell said. “We kind of worked through it. I’m sure it’s the same thing for (Grove City). I’m sure they didn’t take easy workouts that week just to get ready for us.”

The final postseason tuneup was the Tri-State Invitational on Oct. 19 at White Oak Park, site of the WPIAL championships.

“We’re looking really good. We’re feeling good,” Haught said. “We’re taking (WPIALs) very seriously. Our coach has done a good job keeping us focused on WPIALs and not overlooking anything. We’ve all stayed really ready.”

Hall, the defending PIAA Class 3A 1,600-meter champion, is looking to improve on last year’s WPIAL cross country fifth-place finish. The prohibitive favorite is Ringgold senior Ryan Pajak, a two-time defending WPIAL Class 2A champion and Notre Dame commit.

Other top individuals are Montour senior Julian Kletz (seventh at WPIAs last year), Elizabeth Forward senior Patrick Burgos (fourth) and Freeport junior Michael Braun (11th).

“Double-A individually in the WPIAL is really loaded,” Longwell said.

But no team is as loaded as Hampton. Longwell said before the season this was the most talented cross country team in Hampton history, and the results have illustrated that. Based on their times in the Class 3A race at the Red, White & Blue, the Talbots would have scored 58 points in the Class 2A race. Montour won it with 90 points, followed by Beaver (94) and Quaker Valley (104).

The PIAA championships will present a significantly bigger challenge.

“That’s what we’ve been training for all season,” Haught said of the PIAAs. “Every part of the workout, we’ve been looking forward to that moment, because it is our final shot at it. We will leave everything out on the course and give ourselves the best chance. We don’t want to let ourselves down. We just want to put our best foot forward when it comes to that moment.”


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