Despite early-season loss, Hampton boys lacrosse has high expectations

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Saturday, March 30, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The opening week of the 2024 spring season proved something about the Hampton boys lacrosse team.

The Talbots aren’t the best team in the WPIAL Class 2A, but they very well could turn into the second-best.

Hampton sandwiched a 20-6 loss to seven-time defending WPIAL champion Mars with blowout victories over Moon (17-3) and North Catholic (16-4).

With six returning starters and an improving culture under third-year coach Andy DeMichiei, the Talbots are working to restore the glory to a program that has won more WPIAL titles (four) than all but two schools (Mars 7, Mt. Lebanon 5) since lacrosse became a sanctioned sport in 2009.

“We’re still waiting to see how we handle being in a close game and a little bit of adversity,” DeMichiei said. “We’ve done a good job with coming with energy and enthusiasm to practices. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Hampton reached the WPIAL finals eight times in an 11-year span from 2009-19, including a pair of championship teams in 2011-12 when DeMichiei was a high school All-American for the Talbots.

But the past three seasons ended without a trip to the WPIAL title game. Last season Hampton (15-8) took a step forward, making the WPIAL semifinals and reaching the PIAA playoffs.

“We’ve been feeling a lot better about ourselves,” said senior Zach Jacob, a three-year starter for one of the most experienced backlines in the WPIAL Class 2A. “The leadership has improved 10-fold. We’ve been pursuing the tradition of excellence with Hampton.”

Jacob, who will play at Westminster, is joined on the back row by all-section senior Gabe Gannelli, a Mt. Union signee and four-year starter, and second-team all-section junior Nolan Harris, a three-year starter.

The experienced defenders have helped ease the transition from now-graduated Kaden Hoolahan, whom DeMichiei called “probably the best goalie in the WPIAL,” to senior first-year starter Gavin Hamlin, a converted midfielder.

Hamlin last season played goalie for the first time because the junior varsity team needed someone at the position. He has made steady strides in his new role.

“He’s still trying to find himself in the net and get comfortable back there,” DeMichiei said. “But we have seen a bunch of growth … and we expect him to continue to grow. He’s done a nice job.”

Said Jacob, “He’s been improving rapidly and feeling a lot more comfortable as of late.”

The attack features a pair of high-scoring sophomores, Eli Schwarzbach, who last season had 30 goals and 40 assists, and Levi Whitfield (22 goals, 26 assists), along with senior Joey Nelson, another former midfielder. Nelson scored nine goals against North Catholic and had nearly as many goals after the first week as he scored all of last year.

“I think I’m adapting well,” Nelson said. “I feel our offense is finally coming together and it’s in a spot where I’m more confident and I’m in a better place to take more shots.”

The midfield is young but talented with junior Porter Kelly, sophomore Brody Eichas and freshman Heath Borgo. Other midfielders in the rotation are junior Josh Dunmire and sophomores Will Venture, Patrick McCabe and Noah Mlinarich.

With six of the 11 teams in Section 2-2A qualifying for the playoffs, Hampton is virtually assured of making the postseason for the 14th time in 15 seasons. The Talbots have a beefy nonsection schedule that includes Peters Township, Pine-Richland and North Allegheny, plus an April 13 trip to Eastern Pa. to meet Class 3A West Chester Henderson for the second straight year.

Hampton is starting three sophomores and a freshman, and DeMichiei didn’t read too much into the early-season loss to top-ranked Mars.

“We’ve got a young team, so I expected to have some growing pains with execution,” DeMichiei said. “But as long as we are improving, I think by the end of the year we will have a chance to compete for a WPIAL championship.”

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