Opportunity knocks on Hampton boys cross country team

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Thursday, September 5, 2019 | 5:43 PM


For underclassmen on the Hampton boys cross country team, opportunity abounds.

While the team’s overall expectations might be lower this season after losing five of its top seven runners, two seniors are aiming for individual success. Head coach Dean Longwell, meanwhile, is looking to find successors to Joey Cafaro and Matt Gust, who helped lead the team to a sixth-place finish at last year’s WPIAL Championships.

“It’s a small squad this year,” Longwell said. “It’s going to have to be a team effort. Running in the summer, some of the younger guys knew they had their shot this year. So those guys want to get a taste of that it’s like to be in there.”

By way of comparison, the roster of the girls cross country team (21) nearly doubles the size of the boys (12).

Two runners have already had a taste and are looking for more. Seniors Josh Holmes and Joe Fish both posted solid finishes at WPIALs last year. Holmes has been running year-round and is hoping to finally break through.

“I definitely changed my routine a little bit this summer,” Holmes said. “I started running a week and a half before I normally would have and just more training than I would have. I ended up doing 50 more miles than I had done all of last summer. Just a lot more quality miles at a lot faster paces. I like where I’m at right now.”

Holmes finished 38th last year, while Fish finished 48th.

“Josh looks like he has just really put in the time this summer,” Longwell said. “He’s putting in more miles than he had at this point last year. I know he has that desire to get to Hershey this year. If he peaks like he did last year, we’re hoping he can break through.”

Holmes thinks having the success the team did last year will help. Finishing in sixth place is a major accomplishment from Hampton, a smaller Class AAA school that competes against opponents with much larger talent pools.

“Last year was really fun with all the success the team had,” Holmes said. “Getting the opportunity to run with guys like Matt and Joey every day was huge and an experience I’ve taken with me into this year.”

Fish is a multi-talented athlete who also performs in musicals. While he is unable to run year-round, Longwell sees improvement.

“I know Joe has been working hard also,” he said. “We saw a decent amount of him this summer. He peaked really well last year at WPIALs, so it wouldn’t shock me if he placed high again or had a shot at Hershey.”

Together, the two make for a leadership contingent the younger runners can look up to.

“A lot of it is leading by example,” Longwell said. “The summer running is probably some of the most important. I think some of the younger runners look up to Josh and Joe. The time they put in and what they had to do to get to that next level.”

The freshman class came in thin after much excitement. The junior high team beat North Allegheny three times last year. However, one of its top runners transferred to Shady Side Academy to focus on lacrosse, while another wanted to focus on basketball at Hampton. That leaves Tyler Welch.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do,” said Longwell.

As one door closes, the other opens. Sophomore Michael Belch recently switched from the JV golf team to cross country at the last minute, while sophomore Alan Wolfe has improved after dedicating more time away from soccer.

Junior Austin Garrett competed for most of the summer practice sessions, which are held at North Park three days per week from late June through August. An injury that was working itself up to a stress fracture slowed him down. He is in a small walking boot and will be sidelined a few weeks.

Junior Aiden Sawyer and sophomore Jackson McGrath could also see time in the varsity’s top five by year’s end.

“The coaches have looked to Joe and I to lead by example this year,” Holmes said. “Losing the guys from last year is going to be a tough hit for us so we’re just focused on bringing those younger guys up and having a good year.”

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