Hampton girls track team off to quick start behind versatile senior jumper

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Saturday, April 17, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Hampton senior Hannah Schepner still is unsure about her best event in track and field.

She finished seventh in the high jump in the WPIAL Class AAA championships as a sophomore.

Then, the first time she tried long jump this spring, she came within six inches of matching the school’s 19-year-old record.

And her coach, Derek Brinkley, believes triple jump could be her true calling.

Schepner’s best event remains, fittingly, up in the air.

“I really don’t know,” Schepner said. “I thought I was a better high jumper, but then last meet I did really well at long jump.”

A former top-5 WPIAL all-around gymnast, Schepner is poised to succeed in all of the events. She has become noticeably stronger since her sophomore season, when she high-jumped 5 feet, 1 inch and missed reaching the PIAA meet by one place, or two inches. Her background in gymnastics — she remains a high-level gymnast for the Pittsburgh Northstars — has translated seemlessly onto the track and field team.

“She’s a great competitor,” Brinkley said. “She’s got a great gymnast background. She’s a very sweet girl, but on meet day she does have a good fire in her eye, which is cool to see.”

Other top athletes for the Talbots include juniors Angelina Conley, who will compete in the jumping events and on the 400-meter relay, distance runner Nicole Fortes and hurdler Biz Watson, along with promising freshman runner Kathleen Milon.

The 5-foot-11 Watson, who started this past winter for the Talbots’ section-champion basketball team following her transfer from North Allegheny, has hit the ground running.

“She’s nice and tall and athletic,” Brinkley said. “She’s awesome. But she has a little bit of a switch. She is a competitor.”

Schepner, though, is the unquestioned top performer for the Talbots, who are trying to make their fourth consecutive appearance in the WPIAL team playoffs following last year’s wiped-out covid season. The Talbots improved to 3-0 in Section 4-AAA with victories over Highlands and Knoch on April 12.

“It’s definitely a goal to make states (in high jump),” Schepner said. “The other main goal for me is to beat the long jump and triple jump school records and also qualify to WPIAL for those.”

At the season-opening dual meet against Freeport, Schepner recorded a long jump of 16-11. The school record is 17-5, set by Caitlin Ward in 2002. The school’s triple jump mark is 36-9 1/4, set by Julia Conley in 2008. Schepner said her best distance in the event is about 35-6. She qualified for WPIALs in triple jump as a sophomore but fouled on all three jumps.

“She hardly ever talked about it, and she’s still kind of upset about it,” Brinkley said.

The WPIAL disappointment motivated Schepner in the nearly two years since. Hampton jumping coach Joe Cangilla quickly saw the signs of her dedication at the first practices this spring.

“With everyone having a year off, we weren’t really sure who we were going to get back and what shape they were going to be in,” Cangilla said. “But she definitely got stronger, which is great.”

A newcomer to the Talbots is Milon, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of Hampton’s Valerie Fischer, the WPIAL Class AAA 400-meter champion as a senior in 2019. Milon has already run the 400 in 63.3 seconds with plenty of room to improve. She didn’t run middle school track, instead performing in the school musicals. She played the lead role in “Cinderella.”

“That was fun,” she said. “But this year I really wanted to do track. … I want to qualify for WPIALs and states. That’s my big goal. Hopefully, I can get there this season with a lot of hard work.”

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