Promising young runners could help keep Hampton girls cross country on top

Saturday, September 9, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Hampton girls cross country star Kevyn Fish figured her team might be swimming upstream this season.

The Talbots graduated half of an already thin roster from last year’s historic section champion, including two athletes who are running in college.

But an influx of new runners and promising freshmen has provided some optimism in what figured to be a rebuilding year for coach Heather Dietz’s team.

When the Talbots opened the 2023 season with a 24-32 victory over Mars on Aug. 30, three of their top five runners had never competed in a high school cross country meet before.

“Honestly, going into the season, I was looking at our team and I realized, ‘Well, we are definitely more on the youthful side,’ ” said Fish, a junior, who last season placed sixth at the WPIAL Class 2A cross country championships. “But watching the girls finish in the Mars race was absolutely incredible. We have such a promising team. Although we are on the more youthful side, I think that we have some big things coming this year, for sure.”

The Talbots graduated four seniors — Ava Vitiello, a freshman at Northeastern who finished fifth at WPIALs, Teresa Grimm (St. Vincent), Kendall Solkovy and Adrianna Grimm. They led the Talbots to a 10-0 record on the way to the program’s first section title and helped them place fifth in the 2022 WPIAL championships, despite having a roster of eight runners.

The Talbots return Fish, fellow junior and No. 2 runner Abby Hall and senior Lydia Bailey from last year’s top seven, as well as junior Cara Herock.

The newcomers on the 11-girl roster are senior Reed Perry, a first-year runner who placed fifth on the team against Mars; junior Elin Boyce, who returned to the team after sitting out last season; and freshmen Rebekah Hall, Claire McKinney, Karina Bonnar, Olivia Dietz and Charlee Sciulli.

Rebekah Hall, the younger sister of Abby Hall and boys star runner Dale Hall, finished third among the Talbots in the Mars win, while another ninth-grader, McKinney, placed fourth.

Dietz, in her 18th season, knows defending the section title will be a challenge. North Catholic returns six of its top seven runners from last year’s fourth-place WPIAL finisher. Hampton takes on North Catholic, Freeport and Riverview as part of a Section 4-2A quad meet Sept. 19 at Hartwood Acres.

“We’re so young in terms of looking at our scoring. We have two veteran runners who will be scoring for us, but then the next three, two are freshmen and one was a senior who just decided to come out for cross country,” Dietz said. “We’re just focusing on those short-term goals and working hard during practice and hoping that the work pays off. But with such a young team, the expectation is to have fun and learn how to race at the high school level.”

Fish already knows how to do all of that. She is a two-time PIAA cross country qualifier and last spring helped the Hampton 3,200-meter relay team to a gold medal at the WPIAL Class 3A track and field championships. Fish did that despite dealing with a series of nagging injuries. She had shin splints followed by a hip ailment and finally a puzzling foot injury.

“It was a bit of a crazy season,” she said, “but we made it work.”

Fish, who trains about 35 miles a week, said she feels “much stronger.” She returned to running in mid-August; the foot injury had sidelined her since early summer.

“It’s been very rocky,” Fish said. “But the past three weeks have been pretty promising, and I am looking to make a healthy and strong recovery this season.

“(My foot injury) was just this really awkward pain. Even the doctors weren’t exactly sure. We got some X-rays and stuff. There was no fracture at all. It was just a bizarre pain that was happening. … There is still very minor pain, but I feel much stronger already.”

Said Dietz, “Kevyn does look very strong. I’m excited to see her times continue to improve.”

Fish also is encouraged by the young runners on the team. She said they have injected energy and enthusiasm into practices.

“They look fantastic, and they are all so positive and they bring so much joy and personality to the team,” Fish said. “I think with a little more training and understanding high school racing, they are going to improve so much this year.”


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