Hampton boys tennis team sees net gains

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Saturday, May 13, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton boys tennis team finished 8-8 this year, but it sure felt like a winning season.

The Talbots went 4-1 in Section 3-2A, reached the WPIAL quarterfinals for the first time in five years, brought home a section doubles crown for only the second time in two decades and posted the biggest upset of the WPIAL Class 2A singles tournament.

“It was a fun season,” coach Grant McKinney said. “I think a lot of the guys are excited about … coming back even stronger next year.”

The Talbots’ season came to an end with a 5-0 loss at top-seeded Sewickley Academy in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals on May 8 but not before putting together a 2023 season dotted with team and individual achievements.

Hampton defeated Montour, 4-1, in the WPIAL Class 2A first round May 4 at Hampton Community Park, avenging a 5-0 loss two weeks earlier and earning a quarterfinal date for the first time since 2018.

“It was a great team success overall,” said junior Ben LaRusse, who played No. 2 singles. “I think we really improved. It was a great season, and there’s a lot to improve on, and it’s a good benchmark for what next year will be.”

LaRusse and junior Vitaliy Pikalo teamed to win the Section 3-2A doubles championship with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Alex Garvey and Justin Kontul of North Catholic on April 19 at Hampton Community Park. The Talbot tandem became only the second Hampton doubles team in the past 20 years to win a section title, joining Ben Ringeisen and Ted Donegan (2018).

“(LaRusse) had one of the best doubles matches that I’ve seen him play. He was just hitting the ball with extreme confidence,” McKinney said. “And Vitaliy’s net game, same thing. They just played with a lot of conviction. I was impressed. That was really cool to have a section champ. It’s been a long time.”

Said LaRusse, “It was an amazing feeling. It was a great experience, and I hope to do it again next year.”

Seeded No. 2 at the WPIAL Class 2A doubles championships April 25 at North Allegheny, LaRusse and Pikalo edged No. 15 Kyle Siler and Rylan Barr of Thomas Jefferson, 11-10 (4) in the first round before losing to Latrobe’s No. 7 seeded seniors Josh Havrilla and August Lawrence, 10-3, in the quarterfinals.

Earlier in the month, Pikalo, the Talbots’ No. 1 singles player, qualified for the WPIAL Class 2A singles championship, where he shocked No. 4 Havrilla, 11-9, as a No. 13 seed in the first round.

The Talbots are set for more success next season. They graduate only one senior from the 10-man varsity roster, doubles player Luke Proviano. They return a talented six-man junior class of Pikalo, LaRusse, No. 3 singles player Mattew Mason and doubles players Hayden List, Brandon Pascucci and Garrett Wesley.

Also set to return are sophomore J.J. Edwards and freshmen Jackson Mayer and Zane List.

The Talbots are not far away from some of the top teams in WPIAL Class 2A. They took notice that Chartiers Valley upset No. 2 Quaker Valley and Winchester Thurston toppled No. 3 South Park to reach the WPIAL semifinals. Chartiers Valley edged Hampton, 3-2, in the 2023 season opener.

“We think we are right there with those teams, so we want to make as big of a jump as possible,” McKinney said. “This was a step further. Last year, we got knocked out in the first round (5-0 to Valley). This year we took a step further to get to the quarterfinals. That’s progress.”

LaRusse believes the team’s success this season will prompt the returning players to invest more into the sport this offseason.

“I think if we work hard over the summer and during the offseason, we could really give them a run for the money next year,” LaRusse said. “I think we’re going to be a great team. … There’s really nowhere to go but up from this season.”

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