Girls basketball preview: Hampton aims to get back on track with up-tempo attack

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Saturday, November 28, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls basketball team is going small in the hopes of something big.

Coach Tony Howard is installing a fast-paced, guard-oriented lineup as the undersized Talbots try to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

With the 2020-21 season scheduled to start Dec. 11 against McDowell, the Talbots will aim to overcome a lack of height — only one starter is taller than 5-foot-9 — with athleticism, hustle and attention to detail.

“We definitely don’t have the height,” junior guard Kayla Hoehler said, “but we do have the speed and agility.”

Howard said he has wanted to implement an up-tempo attack “for the past couple years” but didn’t have enough depth to pull off the demanding style of play.

Now, Hampton returns three starters from last season’s 7-14 team, including Hoehler, a second-team all-section selection, and adds a North Allegheny transfer and an energetic, talented group of freshmen. The suddenly deep roster will allow the Talbots to use an aggressive system on both ends of the floor, unleashing a fast-break offense and full-court pressure on defense.

“I’ve considered (starting) five guards,” Howard said. “We are going to have to make teams uncomfortable and wear teams down.”

Hoehler, the team’s top scorer last season at 12.6 points per game, said the Talbots are embracing the upbeat approach.

“We really love to push the ball, and we love to run,” she said. “I really think we can just outhustle and do all the little things better than the other teams.”

The Talbots are in a rare slump. They have missed the WPIAL playoffs each of the past two seasons after a remarkable 26-year postseason run from 1993-2018. They are 11-32 since reaching the 2018 WPIAL quarterfinals, by far the program’s worst two-year stretch in three decades.

But early practices offer hope. Senior guard Olivia Bianco, who averaged a team-best 3.6 steals last season, and junior guard Sophia Kelly, who averaged 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and a team-best 2.9 assists, also are returning starters.

Other potential starters include junior wing Biz Watson, a 5-11 North Allegheny transfer, and freshman guard Meghan Murray, who has impressed coaches at early practices.

Senior guard Cass Reinert and junior forward Addie Klocko are also expected to contribute as top reserves.

“We’re very happy with the first couple days of practice,” Howard said. “We have a lot of returning players, and we’ve got about seven or eight freshmen who are really serious and really good. The intensity level and the competition in practice as been a step higher than it has been in the past. It’s been a pleasant first two days.”

The new-look Section 2-5A features Fox Chapel, which drops from Class 6A, and Indiana replacing two-time defending section champion Gateway and Franklin Regional. They join holdovers Armstrong, Kiski Area, Mars and Plum.

“I have a good feeling that we’re going to make the playoffs this year, and that’s what we are all working for,” Hoehler said. “That’s definitely the goal.”

One obstacle confronting Hampton is beyond its control. The covid-19 regulations require players to wear masks at all times. That has forced Howard to reduce practice workouts and limit full-speed drills.

“We have not done our normal conditioning,” the sixth-year coach said. “We have a normal routine the first three days that we put them through to try to get us into shape and get our legs ready. We have really scaled back on that.”

With that in mind, Howard is conflicted about the prospect of players wearing masks during games. He said safety is the primary concern, but he is unsure how to balance wearing masks with the exertion of a full-speed game. The PIAA has strongly opposed the order from Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration mandating athletes in Pennsylvania wear masks during all competitions.

“I think they are going to have to revisit it,” Howard said. “It’s a tough situation and a tough decision. … I hope they don’t (have to wear masks during games) because it’s extremely difficult on the players. It’s really difficult on the players.

“They have to lower their masks every once in a while just to kind of get a breath. I don’t know how they are going to monitor that during a game. I’d hate to be a referee. What is going to be the penalty every time a kid lowers their mask to get a breath of fresh air?”

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