Hampton girls tennis takes step forward

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Saturday, October 30, 2021 | 11:01 AM


There was only one way to go for the Hampton girls tennis team this season.

After a winless, covid-strained campaign in 2020, and with at least a half-dozen returning players, the Talbots anticipated having a bounce-back season.

Among the players back from last year were junior Abi Green, sophomore Elena Herchenroether, junior Mallory Malloy and Mallory’s younger sister, sophomore Melanie Malloy.

Hampton finished 4-9 overall and 3-5 in rugged Section 2-3A.

“It was a very exciting season. The Hampton ladies took a nice step forward this year,” coach Grant McKinney said. “Tennis is a hard sport that takes consistent play, and we got better at that this year. Four of our matches came within a set of being wins. Seven came down to the final match.”

It turned out, though, that Hampton’s top two players were not on the varsity roster a year ago.

Senior Megan Kang, who sat out the 2020 campaign because of covid concerns, returned to the team and secured the No. 1 singles position.

Kang said the Talbots were steady and competitive throughout the season.

“I thought we had really strong growth, just looking at the numbers,” she said. “I wasn’t (with the team) last season, but our performance this year was steady throughout all our matches. We definitely played at a level to be proud of.

“I expected to have competitive matches in a competitive section, and I was right. We battled hard for every win.”

Hampton’s second singles player was Grace Stitt, a freshman sensation who made an immediate impact.

Kang and Stitt, along with sophomore Emma Spiess at No. 3 singles, helped lead Hampton to a 400% growth this fall.

“We were happy to show improvement from last year, ending the year with four wins,” Stitt said. “Since it was my first season on the team and I knew they had a rough season last year, I really didn’t know what to expect, which made the four wins that much more exciting.

“It was definitely a (help) to have a seasoned senior playing first singles, leading the team as one of our captains. Another strength was the team’s camaraderie, always encouraging one other and cheering each other on during matches.”

Kang is president of the Hampton speech and debate team. She was named a National Speech and Debate All-American for 2021, an award earned by fewer than 1% of all high school debaters.

Kang and Stitt advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A doubles tournament as the No. 15 seed.

“Megan is a class act, a remarkably friendly, gracious young lady,” McKinney said. “She is a fabulous person and Hampton tennis is going to miss her equally on and off the court. Megan was 3-0 in head-to-head matches against Grace Stitt.

“As highly as I view Megan, I am pretty sure Grace can rise to the occasion next year to help Hampton tennis win some tough singles matches. Grace has the gifts and mindset of a special competitor and should have a really fabulous sophomore campaign.”

The Hampton pair lost to Latrobe seniors Jenna Bell and Carolina Walters in the WPIAL first round. Bell and Walters, the No. 2 seed, went on to capture the WPIAL doubles title.

“It was awesome making it to the WPIAL playoffs in doubles with Megan,” Stitt said. “I’m making it a goal to make it further in the singles tournament next year.”

Along with playing tennis, Stitt also has competed in basketball as a point guard in middle school.

“I’m deciding if I want to continue with basketball or solely focus on tennis year round,” she said.

Green and Herchenroether, along with Mallory Malloy and junior Heidi Kroneberg, participated in doubles for the Talbots, who competed against some of the WPIAL’s biggest schools in section play.

“Abigail Green was a nice surprise at doubles,” McKinney said. “She transitioned from singles to doubles and did it quite admirably.

“Megan and Grace made WPIAL doubles, the first Hampton ladies team to make WPIALs in almost a decade.”

The Talbots’ grit and determination became visible immediately this season. Hampton started out with a 3-2 nonsection win Aug. 23 against Penn-Trafford. Stitt won at No. 2 singles, and the Green-Herchenroether and Mallory Malloy-Kroneberg tandems swept the doubles events in what proved to be the Talbots’ first victory since 2019.

“I think the team learned to care about winning,” McKinney said. “That is a hard transition after a year of not winning a single match. But captains Mallory Malloy and Megan Kang led by example, giving their all every match and trying to grind out wins.”

The future appears bright for the Talbots, who will lose only one senior, Kang, to graduation. The rest of the team’s lineup was filled mainly by juniors and sophomores.

“If the girls work in the offseason, there is no reason Hampton can’t compete for a playoff spot (in 2022) despite going into an offseason where we lose our No. 1 singles player,” McKinney said. “The team is mostly comprised of underclassman and another year of maturation should pay dividends on the court.”

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