Hampton competitive spirit team reaches PIAA championships for 1st time in 5 years

Saturday, January 14, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The Hampton competitive spirit team has something to cheer about.

The Talbots qualified for the PIAA championships for the first time in five years after a clean routine and top-five finish at the WPIAL competitive spirit finals Jan. 7, at Hempfield.

Hampton, which already had qualified for the Universal Cheerleaders Association national high school championships next month in Orlando, Fla., will travel to Hershey on Jan. 27-28 for the Class 2A state finals.

“It’s really rewarding as a senior that I get to experience that with my team,” said Gabby Imbarlina, one of four seniors on the 15-girl squad. “It’s such a great opportunity, and I feel really happy.”

Hampton, which last season didn’t even compete at WPIALs, placed third in the WPIAL Class 2A small squad division (15 members or fewer) and fourth overall. The top five finishers in Class 2A qualified for states, and Central Valley won the small squad title.

The athletes must be members of the school’s varsity or junior varsity cheerleading squads to join competitive spirit, which became a WPIAL-sponsored sport in 2013.

“I was really proud of us,” Imbarlina said. “We’ve never done that good before. We got a lot of compliments, saying things like we’ve really improved since our first competition.”

The Talbots earned high marks for their well-executed 2 1/2-minute routine during the all-day, 28-school WPIAL championships in Westmoreland County. The highlights were a handstand to the top and an express up to one leg, a stunt that had given the team problems early in the season before its near-flawless execution at the WPIAL finals.

“For my stunt group, we have express ups in our elite stunt and we’ve competed it twice and both times have fallen,” senior Laynie Loebig told Trib HSSN. “So we were really proud that we were able to hit that today.”

When the WPIAL meet announcer revealed Hampton was among the teams that had qualified for states, the girls celebrated and hugged in the stands before coming down to the mat for a group photo.

“They did wonderful,” fourth-year coach Kathy Long said. “The skill level that they put out there … We had the highest stunt score of all Class 2A squads.

“I think they are the hardest-working group that I’ve worked with so far coming through Hampton. I can count on one hand how many athletes have actually even missed a practice.”

The dedication has helped snap a frustrating five-year PIAA championships drought. The Talbots reached states every year from 2014-18, but a combination of near-misses at WPIALs, and canceled or delayed seasons because of the covid pandemic and coaching issues prevented the team from returning to Hershey in each of the past four seasons.

The Talbots gave a hint of what to expect with an early-season small squad division title in an event at North Hills, a solid effort at Slippery Rock that earned them an invitation to nationals, and a masterful showing at an in-season competition at IUP.

Joining Imbarlina and Loebig in the senior class are Lillie Bill and Brianna DeSabato. The talented junior class includes tumblers Justyce Fink and Maria Coleman and backspot Anna Stroud.

“Maria is our most advanced tumbler and she’s stepped up big time with her flying abilities this season,” Long said.

“Anna has improved tremendously. She got all of the tumbling needed for the routine that she didn’t have at the beginning of the season, and she’s become an elite backspot.”

Other team members are Emma Clarke, Jessica Lange, Ellieana Myros, Olivia Mayer, Haley Meyer, Keira Palmer, Ashley Rupert and Emily Wenger.

Although Hampton’s program is only nine years old, the Talbots have done well in the sport. They finished top 15 in the nation in ‘16 (13th) and ‘18 (14th). In their most recent trip to the PIAA championships, in 2018, the Talbots placed fourth.

They expect more success in the next month at states and nationals.

“I think we will do good at nationals, for sure,” Imbarlina said. “We are just so close as a team. We work together. It’s not an individual sport, and we really focus on the team dynamic of it. That’s one of the most rewarding things. We do it together and not just alone.”


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