After taking lumps last season, Hampton girls ready to get back on track
Friday, November 29, 2019 | 12:01 PM
There’s no better teacher than time. The Hampton girls basketball team is hoping that could be the difference to spring the program back into playoff contention.
The freshmen and sophomores pressed into action for a perennial WPIAL championship contender took their lumps last year, going 4-18 — more losses than Hampton had the past three years combined.
“We’re excited about what we’ve accomplished in the offseason, and we’ve seen growth,” coach Tony Howard said. “Some of it is just natural growth, freshmen and sophomores getting bigger and stronger.
“I thought the girls competed well, and our skill level was up to par. We just got grinded down physically. By the third or fourth (quarter), we’re giving up 15, 16 offensive rebounds. That’s hard to overcome.”
The team should see improved guard play from junior floor general Olivia Bianco, who, like last year, will assume the majority of the point guard duties. She already is a two-year letterwinner who cracked the lineup as a freshman defensive specialist. Now, she’s expanding her game.
“Last year we got the ball in her hands, and we’re still trying to get her more opportunities,” Howard said. “She’s such an unselfish player. Her natural instinct is to get someone else a shot. She’s become a student of the game at reading offenses, screen and rolls and learning when to shoot or create.”
A team Howard calls “legitimately the best passing team I’ve ever had” would do well to get all of its players touches.
Likely to be on the receiving end of many Bianco passes is guard Kayla Hoehler, who led the team in scoring last year as a freshman at 12 points per game. She has the ability to score on all three levels — driving to the hoop, pulling up for a jump shot and beyond the arc.
Sophomore Sophie Kelly is an above-average athlete who can stretch the court and create matchup problems. She is also a clutch player, hitting the winning shot against Montour last season as a freshman.
“She’s very athletic and smooth,” Howard said. “She’s lanky, long and can create stuff for herself. … She’s the one where the game is on the line, she has that competitive nature just to make a play.”
The underclassmen aren’t the only players showing improvement. Seniors Katie Baker and Kayla Januck have shown growth on and off the court.
Baker is a physical power forward/center who does things that don’t always show up in the box score. Howard called her the team’s best player in a recent preseason tournament in Cleveland. Januck, an occasional starter last year as a post player, has come into a leadership role.
“She’s probably our smartest basketball player and a leader out there,” he said. “She can direct them where to be and rein them back in”
Others who will see time include junior guard Cass Reinert and versatile senior Maddie Long, who can play shooting guard, small forward and power forward.
The team will be without sophomore forward and returning starter Kate Schmitt until late December or January, which makes the road more difficult.
“She really has the ability to score, post up, shoot 3s. A lot of the offense we put in last year was put in for her,” Howard said. “The good news is we only have two section games before Christmas, so hopefully we can hold on until then.”