Hampton cross country team working on encore after historic season

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Saturday, September 10, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton boys cross country team is learning how to run with a target on its back.

The Talbots return four of their top five runners from the school’s first WPIAL Class 2A cross country championship and are looking to become the first Class 2A boys team to repeat since Knoch in 2014-15.

“They know they are not going to sneak up on anybody this year,” coach Dean Longwell said. “They are definitely hungry. They are taking the training seriously, and they know they have a target on their back. They won’t become complacent.”

Returning from a balanced WPIAL champion are juniors Jacob Bonnar, who placed a team-best seventh at the 2021 WPIAL finals, and Dale Hall (13th) and sophomores Chris Belch (17th) and Nathan Gardner (24th).

Missing from last year’s title run is Nathan Garrett, who placed 12th in the ‘21 WPIAL finals as a sophomore but transferred to Eden Christian, Longwell said.

Garrett will be replaced in the top five by junior Layne Haught.

Other top contributors on the youthful roster include junior Liam Butler and sophomore Miles McKinney.

“I think we look really good,” Hall said. “It will be harder this year because people are expecting us, and we’re not going to just walk back into it, but I think we should do pretty well.”

Because the Hampton girls dropped from Class 3A to Class 2A during the offseason realignment, both squads will run a true Double-A schedule this season after competing against the big-school heavyweights in past regular seasons.

Hampton’s main competition in Section 4-2A is North Catholic, which placed second at last year’s WPIAL finals. The teams will square off as part of a five-team section meet Sept. 20 at Shady Side Academy. North Catholic returns its top four runners.

“That will be the biggie,” said Longwell, whose team was scheduled to open the season Sept. 6 at Mars.

The Hampton girls team, meanwhile, is the smallest in Heather Dietz’s 20 seasons as coach. Only eight runners comprise the roster, led by a pair of returning PIAA Class 3A qualifiers, senior Ava Vitiello and sophomore Kevyn Fish.

Vitiello placed 11th at WPIALs last season, and Fish was 13th.

This year they will be dropping in class, competing against Double-A runners. Based on their times at last year’s meet, Vitiello would have been third and Fish fifth in the WPIAL Class 2A championship.

“I have a small team this year, but they look good,” said Dietz, who typically attracts 16-18 runners. “Obviously, Ava and Kevyn are running really strong. We will pack that 1-2 punch and then we will have a tighter pack behind them.”

The other runners are seniors Teresa Grimm, Adrianna Grimm and Kendall Solkovy, junior Lydia Bailey and sophomores Abby Hall and Cara Herock.

“Everyone is really excited, especially since we are in Class 2A,” Vitiello said. “Our goal is just to have fun. … It’s our senior year, and half of the team is seniors, and we are really excited to have one last year together.”

The Hampton boys team, by contrast, doesn’t have a senior on its roughly 20-man roster. But the Talbots are tested after last year’s WPIAL title run.

“People will definitely be taking their best shot at us,” Dale Hall said, “but we will be giving them ours.”

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