Hampton girls basketball starting to warm up, eye WPIAL playoff berth

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Saturday, January 13, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls basketball team flew to California over Christmas break for a three-day tournament and visited several popular spots around San Diego.

The Talbots want their next trip to be a return visit to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

Hampton shrugged off a 1-4 start to win five out of its next six games, including a 3-0 mark against West Coast schools at the Gold Crown Tournament on Dec. 27-29.

The Talbots were 6-6 overall (2-2 in Section 2-5A) following a 55-47 loss at Armstrong on Jan. 8.

“The girls are just starting to jell right now and playing really well together as a team,” coach Tony Howard said. “They definitely had a great time (in San Diego). They liked the sight-seeing and the camaraderie.”

One year after competing at the Pensacola Beach (Fla.) Christmas Tournament — the program’s first out-of-state event in at least two decades — the Talbots enjoyed a fun, victory-filled trip to California.

Hampton sandwiched blowout wins over Rock Academy (60-13) and El Centro Southwest (71-14) with a 59-49 victory over Chula Vista (Calif.) Olympian.

“The first team was definitely better than the score,” Howard said. “The third team we played was kind of depleted and not real great. The second team was really good.”

Senior point guard Meghan Murray was even better. The Kent State recruit scored a career-high 34 points against Olympian and added a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists against Southwest.

“It was a lot of fun,” senior forward Sterling Thomson said. “We did a lot of fun things other than basketball.”

The Talbots visited Sunset Cliffs and watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. They also went to La Jolla to see the sea lions and seals and stopped by Coronado Beach.

“We saw the seals,” Thomson said. “They were very interesting. They kind of smelled, but it was cool seeing them.”

Howard had learned about the Gold Crown Tournament researching on the internet and, combined with some fundraising and booster donations, it became a reality.

“I wanted to give these kids a different experience,” Howard said.

“The parents and boosters jumped on board and the school board said, ‘OK,’ and that was it.”

The slow start was expected because two starters — senior forward Emma Rick and Thomson — were part of the Hampton girls volleyball team’s extended PIAA playoff run this fall and missed early basketball workouts. The most impressive victory so far was a 54-46 win over Fox Chapel in which the Talbots pulled away in the fourth quarter. Forward McKenna Andrews, the only new starter in the all-senior lineup, scored eight points in a row during the late surge.

Murray, who is averaging 23 points, 6.5 assists and 6 rebounds, and shooting guard Kathleen Milon, who scored a team-high 21 points against Southwest, have anchored the backcourt as the Talbots aim to reach the playoffs for the 30th time in the past 32 seasons.

As of Jan. 10, Murray had 1,307 career points and was on pace to surpass Ali Collins, believed to be the program’s all-time scoring leader with 1,383 (from 2015-18).

“She’s doing it all for us right now,” Howard said of Murray. “She’s elevating everybody else to another level.”

Said Thomson, “Playing with Meghan Murray, she always makes us look good.”

Thomson said she has been teammates with Milon, Murray and Rick since “second or third grade” when “we had a little AAU team.”

“We’ve been playing for so long, I hope we can use that to get far,” Thomson said. “It’s sad knowing that it’s going to end, but I think that’s what keeps us pushing. We know it’s our last year so we are just putting our best effort in.”

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