Senior’s return helps spark Hampton girls tennis team to early-season wins

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Saturday, September 11, 2021 | 11:01 AM


On the first day of Hampton girls tennis practice last month, coach Grant McKinney could hardly believe his eyes.

Senior Megan Kang, one of the school’s top singles players who sat out last season because of covid concerns, was walking onto the court at Hampton Community Park, racquet in hand.

“I was shocked,” McKinney said. “I was so happy.”

A simple, easy-to-make clerical omission had left Kang off the official girls tennis roster. When she filled out her ready-to-play form, she didn’t select her sport, “Tennis.” She was all cleared to play, but no one knew it — until she arrived at the first practice.

“My name just wasn’t on the roster,” Kang said. “I filled out a form wrong. So it was a surprise when I showed up on the first day.”

A very pleasant surprise.

Suddenly, the Talbots had their No. 1 singles player and a senior captain to join a promising and youthful group striving to rebound from last year’s 0-10 covid-strained season.

And it didn’t take long to experience some success. The Talbots opened the season with a 3-2 victory over Penn-Trafford and have continued with a string of competitive matches.

“Last year we were losing every match, and we didn’t feel like we were fighting well,” McKinney said after the Talbots’ hard-fought 4-1 loss to visiting Pine-Richland on Sept. 2. “This year every match we feel like it could go for us, which is nice. They believe in their game. And they should believe in their game.”

In the Aug. 23 opener against visiting Penn-Trafford, freshman Grace Stitt beat Lauren Burkley, 6-0, 6-1, at No. 2 singles and the tandems of Abi Green-Elena Herchenroether and Mallory Malloy-Heidi Kroneberg swept the doubles matches in the Talbots’ first victory since 2019. Last year, the Talbots lost to Penn-Trafford, 4-1.

“It was really exciting,” said Malloy, a junior team captain. “Everybody was cheering for each other. I just feel like it brought the mood up a lot. It was really encouraging.”

The Talbots improved to 2-4 with a 3-2 nailbiter over visiting Shaler on Sept. 7. Sophomore Emma Spiess clinched the win with her first victory of the year at No. 3 singles.

Hampton still has a long way to go to compete consistently in a section (2-AAA) that includes some of the WPIAL’s top programs.

But they are getting better. Last season, they failed to win a match against seven of their 10 opponents, losing 5-0. This year, they haven’t been shut out in any of their first six matches.

The Section 2-AAA singles tournament is scheduled for Sept. 15-16 and sectional doubles is Sept. 29-30.

“As a team we were all kind of sad about last year,” Stitt said. “It was very comforting and nice to get that win (against Penn-Trafford).”

The 14-year-old Stitt has a bright future. She is 4-2 at No. 2 singles, including a straight-set win for the Talbots’ only point against Pine-Richland. She started playing tennis at age 7 but began taking the sport seriously about one year ago. She was finally able to beat her dad, Mike, a solid tennis player in his own right.

“There’s no reason for me to take it easy (on her),” Mike Stitt said. “She’s better than me. If anything, we’re going to get to the point where she’s going to have to take it easy on me.”

Hampton’s other top singles player, Kang, is one of the most well-rounded student-athletes at the school. She won in straight sets at No. 1 singles in a 3-2 loss to Seneca Valley on Aug. 30 and also serves as president of the Hampton speech and debate team. She was named a National Speech and Debate All-American for 2021, an award earned by fewer than 1% of all high school debaters.

“I don’t try to argue with her,” McKinney said.

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