Future of Hampton tennis program in good hands with successful JV squad

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Saturday, October 15, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The building blocks appear to be in place.

Hampton’s girls junior varsity tennis team racked up an impressive 11-2 record this season, offering hope for a firm playoff push by next year’s varsity squad.

“The future looks great,” coach Milt Squires said. “The players are excited and are planning to play year-round to improve in the offseason.

“The girls know in order to be successful, they can’t just wait until fall rolls around to start playing tennis again. They have a plan for playing on their own and getting ready for next year already.”

Hard work and talent clicked for the Talbots. This year’s JV group will mesh with the returning varsity players next fall.

Hampton’s varsity squad remained in postseason contention in 2022 until a tough loss to Ellis School knocked it out of the playoff chase.

Although Hampton dropped from Class 3A to 2A in girls tennis this season, the Talbots included several of the WPIAL’s bigger schools on their junior varsity schedule. Eight of their victories were against 3A opponents.

Hampton’s JV team started off by winning its first seven matches against Franklin Regional (4-1), Mars (3-2), North Catholic (3-2), Pine-Richland (3-2), Chartiers Valley (4-1), Shaler (5-0) and North Hills (5-0).

“I think this year’s JV tennis team made it so much farther than we have in years prior,” said junior LaNiya Ward, who competed at first doubles with sophomore Ellery Robertson. “I think most of it has to do with our team dynamic and always coming to practice excited to play and not dreading the sport we love.

“We played so well this year, and a lot (of our success) goes to our coach, Milt, who helped us make it this far.”

After a 5-0 loss to North Allegheny, the Talbots rebounded with 4-1 victories against Franklin Regional, Seneca Valley and Thomas Jefferson, then dropped a 4-1 decision to Aquinas Academy’s varsity team.

“The girls handled pressure well and closed out tight matches against really good teams,” Squires said. “The girls knew, with a schedule filled with Seneca Valley, Franklin Regional and North Allegheny, that they had to be prepared for each match and go into it with confidence. They definitely trained hard to play those teams.

“Honestly, the girls worked incredibly hard at every practice and really seemed to thrive from the competition. They’re a good group for sure. I had high expectations from the start.”

Hampton’s junior varsity lineup included sophomores Abigail Anderson and Caroline Clutter at first and second singles, with junior Addie Hastings securing the third singles position.

Anderson finished with a 9-2 record in singles play.

“Abigail had an incredible season,” Squires said. “Abigail was our most consistent player, rarely making unforced errors.”

Ward and Robertson teamed up at first doubles while freshman Makenna Ristori and sophomore Madison Holleran competed at second doubles.

Juniors Katherine Jenkins and Julianna Joyce, freshmen Kenzie Jones and Ashley Rothlinberg and sophomore Olivia Marks rounded out the JV squad.

Ward, the team captain, finished with a 11-2 record.

“LaNiya had a great season with 11 wins,” Squires said. “She is an incredible doubles player, a great team captain and a motivating teammate.”

The 16-year-old Ward has a 3.9 GPA and also is a member of the Hampton girls track program.

Ward took her roles as team captain and team leader seriously and tried her best to spread a positive attitude to all of her teammates.

“My duties as captain included, obviously, to be a leader, but also to make sure everyone enjoyed what they were doing,” Ward said. “Yes, on one hand it’s cool to win, but what’s winning if you’re not having fun while doing it?

“Leading by example and having a good relationship with my teammates and coaches were important things that I learned this year, and how much they can impact the team’s mood and performance.”

Ward said the Talbots’ 11-win season took place mainly because of the athleticism on the team and the coaching ability of Squires.

“I’m so thankful and blessed to being playing tennis with such a great group of girls,” Ward said. “I’m also thankful for having an amazing coach.

“Coach Milt is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He always has faith in us and encourages us to become better athletes.”

Hampton’s first-year JV girls coach said Ward and Robertson immediately connected as a doubles pair.

“Ellery started out as second singles and was moved to first doubles due to an untimely injury to another player,” Squires said. “Ellery moved into doubles with LaNiya and racked up win after win. Her willingness to help the team out by playing doubles paid off.”

One of the biggest wins of the year for the Talbots came in a close match with Pine-Richland.

“I remember most of us were nervous and some of us were having a bad day,” Ward said. “We went into the match with our heads down. Ellery and I were losing miserably in the first set (along with the other girls), with the score being 5-0, and coach Milt called us over and said his famous line, ‘Y’all are better than this; get organized,’ and we started laughing and instantly made a comeback.

“It’s the little moments that can turn your mood around and make you play better.”

The Talbots capped their outstanding season — they lost only once to a junior varsity opponent — by taking first place Nov. 5 at the Franklin Regional doubles tournament.

All three Hampton entrants advanced to the semifinal round. Ward and Robertston captured the tournament title in an all-Hampton final.

“The girls and I are super proud of ourselves and how we played this season,” Ward said.

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