Hampton junior strides toward WPIAL track championships

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Saturday, May 7, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Qualifying for the WPIAL Class 3A track and field championships this spring won’t be enough for Ava Vitiello.

The Hampton junior is in the running for much more than just an invitation.

“I’m hoping that it goes really well,” she said, “and I think it will.”

Vitiello was content to merely reach the 2021 WPIAL championships last spring, when a variety of ailments kept her from achieving her best as a sophomore cross country and track runner.

Finally healthy, Vitiello will enter the WPIAL track finals May 18 at Slippery Rock University as one of the district’s top runners in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs.

“I think she definitely understands that she does belong,” Hampton track coach Heather Dietz said. “Last year, there wasn’t any expectations. She was just really excited. Now, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m here. I’ve earned it.’ “

Vitiello has trimmed nearly 20 seconds off her personal-best time in the 1,600 set during last year’s 11th-place finish at the WPIAL championships. Her time has dropped from 5 minutes, 24.67 seconds to a 5:05.10, which she posted during a second-place finish at the Butler Invitational on April 22.

She followed that eight days later with a personal-best time in the 800 while winning the race at the Mars Invitational in 2:20.85. This is Vitiello’s first season running the 800 after competing in the 3,200 last year.

“I definitely see her hopefully shaving off some more time,” Dietz said. “I’d like to see that mile (1,600) time get a little bit closer to the five-minute mark. I know it’s only five seconds, but that’s a hard thing to do.”

Vitiello faced a lot of obstacles during her sophomore season. Her cross country campaign was cut short because of an iron deficiency that caused fatigue, and she developed tendinitis in her ankle during track season.

“My running seasons last year were shorter than they could have been,” she said.

But Vitiello, who had become a vegetarian the previous year, reintroduced meat into her diet and began taking supplements to build iron. The added nutrition worked, and she flourished this past fall for the Hampton cross country team, placing 11th in the WPIAL Class 3A championships.

“I think for my body, personally, (being a vegetarian) just didn’t work the best for me,” she said. “That was a main contributing factor to me getting the iron deficiency. I needed to fix that a little bit.”

Dietz said Vitiello is “doing all the right things” to ensure her diet and strength stay where they need to be.

“Iron is so important to the athlete,” Dietz said. “Her doing the little things, like making sure she is getting the nutrition that she needs and doing the strength exercises, has definitely helped her become a stronger runner.

“A lot of athletes that want to be a vegetarian don’t necessarily understand the importance of good protein and don’t always get the good protein. Even if they choose not to go the meat route for their protein, they still need that.”

This spring, Vitiello is feasting on opposing runners. She is undefeated in the 800 and the 1,600 in dual meets. She also placed fourth in the 800 at the Butler Invitational and second in the 1,600 at the Mars Invitational.

As of May 1, she was ranked third in the 800 and sixth in the 1,600 among Class 3A girls, according to the WPIAL Top 24 track list.

Other Hampton girls pointed toward the WPIAL Class 3A championships are sophomore Kathleen Milon (400), freshman Kevyn Fish (3,200) and the girls 1,600 relay team (Milon, Sara Kenst, Morgan Killian, Maddy Fitzgerald).

On the boys side, senior Matt DeMatteo (300 hurdles, triple jump) and sophomores Nathan Garrett (1,600) and Dale Hall (1,600) are headed for WPIALs.

Vitiello will skip the final WPIAL tuneup — the Pine-Richland Invitational on May 6 — because it conflicts with the Hampton prom, a long-anticipated event following the prolonged covid shutdowns.

Vitiello began running track in grade school while living in New Jersey. She also played field hockey for three years. But when her family moved to Hampton during her eighth-grade year — the school doesn’t offer field hockey — Vitiello’s mom suggested she try cross country for the first time.

“I joined my freshman year, and that’s kind of what started my love for running,” she said. “If my mom hadn’t told me to join cross country my freshman year, I don’t know if I would be here now.”

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