Hampton girls basketball turns up pressure during fast start

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Saturday, January 15, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls basketball team was perfect in December by letting no opposing teams win and by barely allowing them to breathe.

On the way to an 8-0 record, the Talbots sprinted out of the gate from the opening whistle, shell-shocking teams en route to the program’s second-best start in at least two decades.

“We just want to put away the game right from the beginning,” senior guard Kayla Hoehler said. “Right from the jump, we’ve got to put that pressure on.”

Unleashing a smothering full-court defense, the Talbots built first-quarter leads of 27-4 against Plum and 20-8 against Knoch. They led at Seton La Salle, 42-13, at halftime and Peters Township, 33-16, after two quarters.

“We are just coming out of the gate really good right now,” coach Tony Howard said. “We’ve gotten off to a lot of good starts.”

Full-court pressure combined with balanced scoring vaulted the Talbots to the 8-0 start. Only the 2016-17 team, which won its first 11 games, had a better start in the program’s past 20 years.

The defending section champion Talbots opened the season by winning the Seneca Valley Tipoff Tournament and then cruised to a pair of lopsided wins to put a bow on their own holiday tournament in late December.

“I was pretty confident about our team going into the season,” Hoehler said. “I had a pretty good feeling. But I am pretty impressed with how we are doing.”

Hampton’s undefeated run ended with a 41-29 loss to Section 2-5A foe Armstrong on Jan. 6 while playing without starters Meghan Murray and Biz Watson. But the Talbots rebounded with consecutive victories over Central Valley and Fox Chapel in a four-day span ending Jan. 11.

They were 10-1 overall and 3-1 in section entering a Jan. 13 showdown against visiting Indiana.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise,” Howard said. “I probably wouldn’t have expected to be where we are at right now. But they’ve played well.”

Through their first 11 games, the Talbots were allowing 33.5 points per game, second-best in WPIAL Class 5A. The fast-paced pressure defense installed prior to last season has been fine-tuned this season, easing the loss of graduated standout defender Liv Bianco.

“We’ve been able to focus on some of the smaller details in practice, and they are really responding to that,” Howard said. “I think teams are having a hard time with the speed. I’m sure they are preparing in practice, but it’s something that’s kind of hard to prepare for. The speed of it takes a little bit of shock time.”

Said Murray, “We’re just getting better at what we did last year.”

On the other side of the court, the Talbots can rely on several options. Murray, who has moved to point guard this season, scored in double figures in each of the first eight games. All told, four players — senior Sophia Kelly, sophomore Kat Milon, Hoehler and Murray — have led the Talbots in scoring in at least one game.

“It helps a lot because not only does it get other players involved, but we all share the ball as a team,” Murray said. “We’re getting the ball to other people. It takes pressure off other players.”

Junior forward Claire Rodgers and senior forward Carolyn Kuzniewski have also chipped in with double-figure scoring games.

“It makes it very difficult, especially whenever all of the girls out there are a threat to score,” Hoehler said. “It’s hard for other teams because they can’t come out and say, ‘OK, we’re going to shut down that girl. We’re going to shut down you and you.’ They have to watch out for whoever is on the court. It definitely is a huge plus for our team, and it’s a great thing to see.”

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