Hampton boys swim team in search of WPIAL 3-peat with new-look roster

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Saturday, November 26, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton boys swimming team will need to take a different lane to a third consecutive WPIAL Class 2A title.

The Talbots are without much of the star power they used to win each of the past two WPIAL crowns. Instead, they will rely on one standout Division-I bound swimmer and a deep supporting cast.

“There is definitely something different in the water,” said senior Ben Sheets, who has committed to D-I Queens (N.C.) College. “You can kind of feel that the energy is there. We are really young. … I think everyone wants to win again. We are all going to try our best, and we are ready to go.”

Meanwhile, the Hampton girls team has high expectations after moving down to join the boys program in Class 2A during the WPIAL offseason realignment.

Sheets, one of only two seniors on the roster, will lead the Talbots after placing second in the 200 IM and the 100 backstroke at last season’s WPIAL championships. He also medaled in both events at states and was part of the record-setting WPIAL champion 200 medley relay team. Sheets, who also considered Monmouth, Xavier, Delaware and Wingate (N.C.), admits Hampton’s path to a WPIAL three-peat will be difficult.

“It’s not out of the possibility,” he said. “But it’s going to be really tough. We are going to have to be hard on each other. I’m excited for the season. But this has been a way different team than we’ve had before. Typically, we have four people who can get top three at WPIALs. Now we have maybe two people, and the rest can get top 16.”

Joining Sheets as Hampton’s top returning swimmers are junior Zach Sutterlin, who placed fifth in the WPIAL in the 100 breaststroke and was part of the gold-medal winning 200 medley relay; sophomore Chris Belch, who placed seventh in the WPIAL in the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke; and junior Vitaliy Pikalo, who qualified for WPIALs in multiple events last season. The Talbots also welcome back sophomore diver Pax Carslaw, a PIAA qualifier last season.

Hampton, which opens the 2022-23 season Dec. 8 at North Hills, must try to fill the void left by a handful of top seniors, including WPIAL and PIAA 200 IM champion Will Retsch, and junior freestyler Dan Bratu, who moved during the summer.

“We have a lot of depth,” said coach Morgan Zweygardt, entering her seventh season. “We may not have the stars, but we have a good amount of sophomores and freshmen who want to step up and contribute.

“It is a different dynamic, but just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not good. They are such a good group of kids, and you can tell they want to do well.”

Other contributors will be senior Ryan Wukitch, sophomores Scott Watkins, Owen Wallace and Wil Cramer, and freshman Sebastian Villalba.

On the girls side, the biggest offseason development was the move from Class 3A to Class 2A. Instead of facing WPIAL powers North Allegheny and Seneca Valley, among others, the Talbots are in Section 3-2A, along with more comparably sized schools such as Deer Lakes, North Catholic, Northgate and Shady Side Academy.

“We’re really excited and we really think we’re going to win a lot now,” senior Teresa Grimm said. “Going against bigger schools like (North Allegheny), we didn’t stand a chance. But against these smaller ones, we are definitely more confident going in.”

Grimm, who specializes in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM, is joined by her twin sister Adrianna Grimm, a St. Francis (Pa.) recruit, and fellow seniors Emma An, a WPIAL Class 3A qualifier in the 200 freestyle and 500 free, and Rita Khoury.

Zweygardt is excited about a talented group of young swimmers, including sophomore Maya Daugherty, and freshmen Maddie Bruce, Sofia Welch, and Sheets’ twin sisters, Libby and Lainey. Freshman diver Gabby Elk also has a promising future.

“We definitely have a lot of talent coming in,” Teresa Grimm said. “We are really excited about that.”

The best of the young group is Lainey Sheets. She finished 10th in 100 backstroke and 12th in 200 backstroke at Eastern Zone Senior Championships in August at Pitt.

“Lainey is a powerhouse,” Zweygardt said. “She will make WPIALs. It’s not even a question. She will make it. Easily. She’s very good.”

Her older brother, Ben, is also very good. He would have set a new WPIAL Class 2A championship meet record in the 200 IM last season, except his teammate, Retsch, was even faster. Sheets is working to take another step forward after placing fourth in the 100 backstroke and sixth in the 200 IM at the last season’s PIAA championships.

“Winning states has always been a dream of mine,” Ben Sheets said. “This year I really feel like I could make it happen. I’m going to try my best to make it happen.”

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