Hampton girls tennis reflects on historic season

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Saturday, October 28, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls tennis team stopped at a restaurant on the way home from its PIAA Class 2A playoff match Oct. 24 in Erie.

The most successful season in program history had come to a halt with a 5-0 loss at Cathedral Prep.

But the tears had dried, leaving only happiness.

“We were all laughing,” said junior Grace Stitt, the team’s No. 1 singles player. “No one there could probably tell that we had just lost.”

The Talbots had so much to feel good about. Three years after going 0-11, they became the school’s first girls tennis team to reach the PIAA playoffs, piling up victories and memories along the way during a historic 2023 season.

“It was really special,” said Emma Spiess, the Talbots’ No. 2 singles player and one of seven seniors on the 10-girl roster. “I had no expectations at all, to even make playoffs, going into (the season). We were obviously all sad (after the PIAA loss). We cried a bit. Not because we were disappointed in how we did, but because we were sad it was over.”

Some of the highlights include:

Hampton (11-7) reached the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2013

• The No. 5 seeded Talbots used an unlikely WPIAL run to reach the state tournament, topping South Park, 5-0, and No. 4 seed and previously undefeated Indiana, 4-1, in the first two rounds.

• Following a 3-2 semifinal loss to top-seeded Knoch, the Talbots beat No. 3 North Catholic, 4-1, in the third-place match to avenge a regular-season loss and clinch a spot in the state playoffs.

“That was a neat run,” Talbots coach Grant McKinney said. “They went into every match believing they could win.

“I really have no regrets on the season. There was nothing that the girls could have done differently and nothing I could have done from a coaching standpoint that I regret.”

The Talbots were no match for Cathedral Prep, the eight-time defending District 10 champion. Hampton suffered only its second 5-0 loss in 18 matches this season. (The other was to WPIAL Class 3A runner-up North Allegheny.) During its winless 2020 season, when the current seniors were freshmen, the Talbots lost 5-0 in eight of their 11 matches.

“We were definitely disappointed that the season is over,” Stitt said. “I think we were all a little sad and tired, but I think deep down we were really proud of ourselves”

Along with the team achievements, the players sprinkled in individual accolades.

Stitt became the first Talbot to win a section singles title since Vanessa Steiner in 2005, advancing to the WPIAL semifinals.

Senior Samantha Jones and sophomore McKenna Restori, the team’s No. 1 doubles team, went undefeated during section play and reached the semifinals at the Section 3-2A doubles tournament.

Spiess and junior Abigial Anderson thrived at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, and seniors Laniya Ward and Greta Hamlin won valuable points at No. 2 doubles.

Rounding out the roster were energetic seniors Melanie Malloy, Elena Herchenroether and Addie Hastings.

“We had a lot of close matches, and everyone was able to contribute,” McKinney said. “We never quite knew where the three points were coming from.”

The community rallied behind the team, which had used early season nonsection wins over Quaker Valley and Chartiers Valley and a 3-2 section loss to WPIAL Class 2A power Knoch to boost its confidence. One of the player’s moms made special sweatshirts that read “PIAA state championships” with “Hampton” and tennis racquets on the sleeve. McKinney, a 16th-year coach who returned this season after taking a one-year sabbatical, was besieged with well-wishes during the run.

An impressive contingent of parents and fans made the two-hour trek to Erie for the state playoff match. They watched the end of a memorable season for a team that deeply cared for each other.

“We were all proud of ourselves,” Spiess said. “We would have been sad if we thought we didn’t play our best. But we all knew that we tried our hardest, and we lost trying our hardest. That’s really the only way to lose.”

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