Hampton can count on depth in quest to repeat at WPIAL Class 2A boys swim champs

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Sunday, December 12, 2021 | 9:18 PM


The reigning WPIAL Class 2A champion Hampton boys swimming team hopes deeper is better when it comes to the pool.

The Talbots will look to defend their title with less top-end talent and more roster-wide balance.

“I think we have a lot of depth,” junior Ben Sheets said. “Last year we had a lot more star power, but I think what is going to help us this year is just more people who are competing at a high level.”

The Talbots graduated seniors Richie Donato and Ethan Apaliski from the program’s first WPIAL championship swim team in 22 years. They comprised half of the Talbots’ WPIAL record-setting 200 medley relay team. Donato rewrote the school record books in the 100 breaststroke while placing second in both the WPIAL and the state, and Apaliski took fourth in the WPIAL 100 breast.

But the Talbots return some high-caliber swimmers, most notably senior Will Retsch, the defending WPIAL Class 2A 200 IM champion, and Sheets, a top-seven finisher in the 100 backstroke and 200 IM. They formed the other half of the Talbots’ gold-medal 200 medley relay.

Coach Morgan Zweygardt, entering her sixth season, said the boys team is showing no signs of letdown after winning last season in their first year back in Class 2A.

“I think (winning last year) energized them more,” she said. “They wanted to win it originally. As the season went on, we started going, ‘Oh, we can win this thing.’ Now they are just like, ‘We need to win again. We need to do it again.’ They have not rested. They are working hard, and they are not complacent. They want to do better than they did before.”

Other returning swimmers in the Talbots’ repeat bid are seniors Davis Gindelsperger (sprint free) and Michael Belch (fly) and a gifted group of sophomores led by Zach Sutterlin (breast), Viltaliy Pikalo (free) and Dan Bratu (free). Freshmen Chris Belch (fly) and Scott Watkins (sprint free) hope to make an early splash.

The lone diver is freshman Pax Carslaw, whose older brother, Koda, placed third at the 2021 WPIAL diving championships but will miss his junior season following knee surgery.

Riverside, which returns the Roth brothers, and 2021 WPIAL runner-up Northgate are expected to be the Talbots’ top challengers at the WPIAL championships in the first week in March.

“We kind of stormed onto the scene in our first year in Double-A and took home the championship,” Sheets said. “I think the target on our back has us training a lot harder because we know people are going to be gunning for us.”

Sheets, who swam about 6,000 meters a day during the summer, is switching this season from the 200 IM to the 200 freestyle. His specialty remains the 100 back, but with teammate Retsch the defending WPIAL 200 IM champion, Sheets is looking for team points in other events.

“I am going to kind of leave (the 200 IM) to him,” Sheets said, “and we’re going to try to spread the board a little bit more.”

Meanwhile, Retsch, who placed fourth in the WPIAL 100 backstroke last season, may instead pivot to the 100 butterfly this season to give the Talbots in even more balance.

“Will is a little bit of everything,” Zweygardt said. “I can move him around a little bit. We’ll see how it goes.”

On the girls side, the Talbots are in their final season in Class 3A before joining the boys in Class 2A based on the latest PIAA enrollment parameters.

Being in Class 3A significantly toughens the path to the WPIAL championships for the Hampton girls, who are among the classification’s smallest schools.

“It’s a little bit hard because with the boys being Double-A and the girls Triple-A, it’s sometimes discouraging to some of the girls whenever the boys get all these titles,” senior Belle Donato said. “We have just a few too many girls. But as long as we can stay positive that, yeah we are swimming with bigger schools and faster teams, your times are still your times.”

Donato, who specializes in the backstroke, is joined by Danielle Sutterlin (breast, sprint free) as senior captains. Other returners include juniors Rita Khoury (fly) and Emma An (breast, distance free) and sophomore Carly Colonna (free).

Top newcomers are freshmen Maya Daugherty and Kevyn Fish.

The girls also bring back a trio of divers: seniors Annelise Craig (12th in the WPIAL last season) and Riley Howard and junior Kayla Berkebile (20th).

Hampton graduated its only WPIAL swimming qualifier from last season, distance freestyler Catie Kress, but Zweygardt is heartened by the early season training and team atmosphere.

“This is a really great group of girls who are so hard-working and so encouraging of each other,” Zweygardt said. “I am really excited to see how they do this year. I think it’s going to be a really fun season with them.”

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