Hampton sophomore serves up WPIAL tournament bid

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Saturday, September 24, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Moments after Hampton’s Grace Stitt lost in her section singles semifinal match Sept. 14, coach Sara Longo reminded her of what was at stake the following day.

“I was like, ‘Well, tomorrow is a must-win,’ ” Longo said. “She goes, ‘Oh, I’m getting to WPIALs. Don’t worry. I’m getting there.’ So I wasn’t worried.”

Stitt, a No. 3-seeded sophomore, rebounded from her Section 3-2A semifinal loss to No. 2 seeded senior Ally Bauer of Knoch to ease past Aquinas Academy’s Victoria Taylor, 6-1, 6-2, in the third-place match at Hampton Community Park to secure a berth to the WPIAL Class 2A singles championship.

The top three finishers in each section qualified for WPIALs.

Stitt became only the fourth Hampton girls player to reach the WPIAL singles championship in the past 25 years, joining Lucy Gloninger (2015), Vanessa Steiner (‘05), Longo’s former Talbot teammate, and Courtney Chen (‘01, ‘02).

“I could not be happier,” Stitt said. “It’s been a goal of mine since freshman year, well, a year ago, to win WPIALs by my senior year. So to be one step closer to that is really exciting.”

Stitt, the No. 12 seed, lost to Winchester Thurston fifth-seeded sophomore Cecilia Gurgel, 10-6, on Sept. 21 at Bethel Park in the opening round of the WPIAL Class 2A singles championship.

Hampton’s other entrant at section singles, junior Emma Spiess, lost to North Catholic’s No. 4 seed Riley Pylant, 10-1, in the first round.

After winning her match point against Taylor, Stitt pumped her fist in the air and gave out a celebratory yell for achieving one of her primary goals.

“She has fire in her,” Longo said. “I’m so proud of her. Even before I was a Hampton coach, I would see her up here (at Hampton Community Park) with her dad and be like, ‘Who is this girl? She’s really good.’ … It’s been really fun to watch her journey, and this is a big milestone for her getting to WPIALs.”

Stitt was never threatened in the section third-place match. She used a strong backhand and a consistent serve to dispose of Taylor, a fifth-seeded junior.

“I feel that I played really well,” Stitt said. “My forehand has always been something of a weakness for me. So I decided to really use my backhand as a weapon and take advantage of that. I think I did that well.”

Stitt believed her serve was also lacking after a handful of double-faults earlier this season. She approached Longo, her first-year coach, about improving it.

The 5-foot-4, 110-pound Stitt concentrated on perfecting her toss, so she could fully extend and achieve maximum force.

“I have been working to really get my toss high enough up so that I can then reach high and get the power to hit down on it,” Stitt said. “I think it’s been great for me so far.”

Said Longo, “She’s little, but she has power when she puts her body into it.”

Stitt, who plays No. 1 singles for Hampton, has the Talbots on the brink of reaching the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2013. Two years after going 0-10 in Class 3A, the Talbots are 3-2 in Section 3-2A (as of Sept. 21) and were scheduled to face a winner-take-all match against Ellis School on Sept. 27 for the final playoff spot behind section frontrunners Knoch and North Catholic.

After qualifying for WPIAL singles, Stitt reflected on all of her long practices and workouts that led to that moment.

“My dad and I always talked about discipline and playing whenever you don’t want to, and there were definitely some days where I could go without playing,” she said, smiling. “But tennis is just something that I really want to succeed at, and I’m just so thankful that my hard work is paying off because it’s an amazing feeling.”

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