Realignment gives Hampton tennis team high hopes

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Saturday, August 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The tennis courts at Hampton Community Park haven’t changed since last year. They are still 78 feet long by 36 feet wide.

But they should seem a little more level this season.

After decades of playing in Class 3A against some of the WPIAL’s biggest schools, the Talbots girls tennis team was moved down to Class 2A during the offseason enrollment-based realignment.

Under new coach Sara Longo, who replaced Grant McKinney, the Talbots will no longer have to contend with the likes of North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley, schools with two to three times as many girls as Hampton.

“It’s difficult,” Longo said. “Hampton’s numbers just never match up. From a numbers perspective, we are on a more even playing field, which is great.”

The Talbots’ new home is Section 3-2A, which includes more appropriately sized Burrell, Ellis School, Highlands, Knoch, North Catholic and Riverview. They opened the season Aug. 22 against visiting Valley.

“I think it’s ideal,” senior Abi Green said. “I think to be constantly playing people who are going to crush you is not necessarily going to help you become a better player. I think being in a section where we have more equal matches is going to help everybody on the team improve.”

The Talbots return six of their top seven players from last season, led by sophomore Grace Stitt at No. 1 singles.

Stitt reached the Section 2-3A quarterfinals last season as a ninth-seeded freshman. She also paired with graduated senior Megan Kang to become the first Talbots doubles team to reach the WPIAL tournament since 2014.

Stitt devoted her offseason to working on different aspects of her game.

“Serving was a big part of my offseason,” Stitt said. “Also my mental game has really improved tremendously. I don’t yell or hit myself as often now, which is definitely a plus.”

Junior Emma Spiess returns to play No. 2 singles and Green will play No. 3 singles. The doubles teams will be seniors Heidi Kroneberg and Mallory Malloy along with juniors Elena Herchenroether and Mallory’s sister, Melanie.

After going 0-10 in 2020, the Talbots rebounded last season to go 4-9 overall and 3-5 in the rugged section.

“I think last year when we played harder teams and we definitely won a few matches — even though it might not have been an overall win — I think those little victories throughout last year gave us all a lot of confidence,” Kroneberg said.

Longo, a 2007 Hampton graduate who played at Allegheny College, coached the Talbots junior varsity for the past two seasons.

“She really knows how to help inspire the players,” Mallory Malloy said, “and help everybody out if they are having a bad day.”

Longo takes over at her alma mater for McKinney, a 15-year coach who is taking a one-year sabbatical. McKinney also coaches the Hampton boys tennis team in the spring and is expected to return to that job.

“It might just be for this year. I’m honestly not really sure,” Longo said. “I’m kind of filling in for him so he can take a break.”

Longo picked a good year for a possible interim gig. She believes the Talbots should be highly competitive in Class 2A; they went the past eight years without reaching the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.

The top program in the Talbots’ path is Knoch, which hasn’t lost a section match since 2015. The Knights return their top two singles players, but Longo remains optimistic.

“I feel like our pool of tennis players is pretty strong,” said Longo, who had more than 20 girls at the initial tryout. “So I feel pretty confident walking in, saying we should be able to do really well this season.”

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