Hampton boys tennis looks to take another step

Saturday, March 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM

The tennis courts at Hampton Community Park are scheduled to undergo a major renovation this summer, but in the meantime, the Hampton boys team has some work of its own to do.

The Talbots return six of their seven top players from last year’s 8-8 team, which reached the WPIAL quarterfinals for the first time in five years, and entered the 2024 season with lofty goals.

“I think we should take a step forward,” coach Grant McKinney said. “We won one round (in the playoffs) last year. We’d like to take another step and have a little bit more of a competitive second-round match. That would be really nice.”

With an experienced, senior-laden lineup, all of the pieces are in place for another solid season. Seniors Vitaliy Pikalo and Ben LaRusse will handle the top two singles spots.

The two combined last year to win the Section 3-2A doubles title — only the program’s second section doubles champs in the past 20 years — and reach the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Pikalo also reached WPIAL singles championships, upsetting Latrobe’s No. 4-seeded Josh Havrilla in the first round.

McKinney, in his 15th season, said both of his top singles players had strong offseasons. Pikalo, who said he consistently trained or played about two hours a day, paired with Montour’s John Rohrkaste to win an 18-and-under doubles tournament at Washington & Jefferson.

“I like how my serve has improved,” Pikalo said. “I’m really happy how this has gone and look forward to how this journey goes.”

LaRusse also is showing the benefits of a productive summer during the opening weeks of practice.

“Ben just hits a much more consistently heavy ball,” McKinney said. “He looks more in command of moving around the court and being able to play the entire point out and really structuring the point well, not just hitting the ball back and hope he wins.”

Senior Matthew Mason, junior J.J. Edwards and sophomore Zane List are auditioning for the No. 3 singles spot, and seniors Hayden List and Brandon Pascucci are proven doubles players.

Other returnees are sophomore Jackson Mayer and Zane List’s twin brother, A.J.

“I’d say we’re going to be a powerhouse this year,” Pikalo said. “We’re going to be stacked in both doubles and singles. We have a lot of guys eager to work hard and step up.”

Hampton lost to Class 3A power North Allegheny, 5-0, on March 18 to kick off an 18-match regular season, but the Talbots should be right in the thick of the Section 3-2A race. They were scheduled to open section play March 20 at defending section champion North Catholic.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Pikalo said. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”

The nonsection schedule will be a challenge. Nine of the Talbots’ 12 opponents reached the WPIAL playoffs last season, including North Allegheny, Chartiers Valley, Peters Township and Franklin Regional. The individual singles and doubles tournaments begin with section singles April 3-4.

“I think we showed we were a strong team last year,” McKinney said. “It’s just building upon that.”

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