Top-6 finish highlights successful season for Hampton runners
The Hampton cross country team found success and a bit of redemption at the WPIAL championships at Cal (Pa).
The Talbots sent a runner to the state meet for the first time since 2014.
Senior Joey Cafaro, who missed qualifying last year for the PIAA championships by one spot, finished 26th in 17 minutes, 20 seconds, good enough to squeak in.
“We all knew what our goal was,” Cafaro said. “Just keeping each other on track and working hard every practice was a big thing. There’s really a good atmosphere at our practice with so many intensive runners.”
Cafaro helped the boys team to an impressive sixth-place finish, with the top four Talbots finishing in the top 50 in Class AAA.
“The boys ran well,” coach Dean Longwell said. “If you look at the teams in front of us, (North Allegheny), Seneca, Mt. Lebanon, they could be top five in the state. We had a feeling going into the season we could be a top-seven team so that was kind of the goal.”
Fellow senior Matt Gust, a close friend of Cafaro, was happy to see how the Talbots earned their way to becoming one of the better cross country teams in the WPIAL this season -- even though he barely missed the cut for the state meet with a 32nd-place finish (17:31).
“It was definitely a tough course,” said Gust, who got a sneak peek the week before at Tri-State Coaches Association meet.
“When it came time for WPIALs, I think I got caught up in it, got a fast start and burned myself out. It’s definitely different than (Cooper’s Lake) Slippery Rock, getting the hills in the middle and toward the end,” he said.
It’s been since 2012, when both the boys and girls finished fourth, since either team has enjoyed such success.
“I thought we did a really good job of holding each other accountable this year,” Gust said. “It went a really long way towards pushing us to the top of our potential.”
The boys finish was also made possible by juniors Josh Holmes (38th, 17:48) and Joe Fish (48th, 18:09).
“We’re looking at Josh and Joe to be our leaders next year,” Longwell said. “We had a feeling going into Thursday that we could have three qualify or none qualify. We knew we’d be on the edge.”
The girls team didn’t have any state qualifiers, but that didn’t take away from a solid finish for seniors Meghan Gallagher (79th, 22:01) and Elizabeth Dolan (80th, 22:02).
“Megan finished pretty well,” Longwell said. “She really put some time in this offseason and wanted to finish strong. Liz had to overcome some foot issues the past couple years, so it was nice to see her be able to handle that this year.”
The big story for the girls is freshman Bella Henzler flashing her potential. She led the girls team with a 65th-place finish in 21:42.
“Bella was consistent all year,” Longwell said. “Sometimes first and sometimes maybe third but the girls most of the season had a nice pack.”