Hampton girls lacrosse team delights in exceeding expectations

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Saturday, June 4, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls lacrosse team entered the 2022 season with tepid expectations after graduation losses decimated last year’s WPIAL Class 2A semifinalist.

“Honestly,” senior captain Hannah Acquafondata said, “I kind of came into this season with my head down.”

The Talbots ended the spring with their heads held high.

Hampton rolled to its second consecutive undefeated Section 1-2A crown and advanced to the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals, where the Talbots lost to rival Mars, 13-9, on May 23.

Along the way, the Talbots earned a No. 3 seed, reached the WPIAL semifinals for the sixth consecutive year — they won it all in 2017-18 — and extended their section winning streak to 25 games. Only Shady Side Academy has a longer active section winning streak (30) in WPIAL girls lacrosse.

“I just think we really overachieved expectations,” said junior midfielder Emi DiLiberto, who finished with 74 goals, the second-highest single-season total in program history. “Everyone thought this was going to be a down year for us. I feel we performed extremely well. … I feel like everyone really wanted to get back to where we got last year. Everyone had a bit of fight in them.”

Despite losing All-American Megan Cook and a loaded 15-member senior class, the Talbots finished with a 15-5 record, including an eight-game winning streak to end the regular season.

The highlight of the late-season surge was a 13-7 victory over eventual WPIAL Class 3A semifinalist Pine-Richland on May 10.

“Everyone played out of their minds that game,” DiLiberto said. “We knew it was going to be a tough matchup. We had lost to them the year before (13-7). We came out and we just started fighting really hard for the win and we managed to get it. It was very exciting.”

The enthusiasm didn’t end there. Hampton routed No. 6 Plum, 17-5, in its WPIAL Class 2A playoff opener May 18 before losing to No. 2 seed Mars in the semifinals for the second consecutive year.

“I think we did amazing,” coach Kelsey Burke said. “To get to the WPIAL semifinals again was a remarkable achievement. Of course, we want nothing more than to win and advance … and to fall short hurts tremendously. But it doesn’t take away the pride that I have in how far we got this season.”

Senior midfielder Sophia Kelly, a Mercyhurst basketball recruit, finished with 58 goals — tied for sixth-most in program history — and 20 assists. Acquafondata added 22 goals and a team-best 29 assists from her attack position. Other members of the seven-girl Class of 2022 are attacks Tori Fiscus (21 goals) and Ashlyn Enright (10g, 10a); midfielder Rachel Dolan, who returned from an early season foot injury to play in both playoff games; defender Morgan Williams and goalie Gia Castellano, who has signed to play at Seton Hill.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge after losing 15 seniors to come back and perform just as well,” said DiLiberto, who set the program’s single-season record with 221 draw wins. “Between underclassmen stepping up and seniors getting more time on the field than they did (last season), everyone just had a lot of hard work and dedication that went into getting to this point.”

The Talbots had few disappointments all season. Their only losses were to 3A playoff qualifier Seneca Valley, WPIAL Class 3A finalist Mt. Lebanon, WPIAL Class 2A champion Chartiers Valley and WPIAL Class 2A runner-up Mars (twice).

“I really didn’t think we would go as far as we actually did,” Acquafondata said. “But once we started to improve and practice together, I saw how much potential we had. But I was kind of surprised after we lost all of those seniors that we still did really well. I think that was really good for us.”

DiLiberto, who is playing this summer for the Illinois-based 2023 True National team, will be the top returning player. She will be joined by junior-to-be midfielder Meghan Murray (36 goals), rising senior attack Kelli Gibson (14 g), junior-to-be attacks Sienna Rex (17g) and Lindsay Fiscus (15g), and defenders Lauren Gale, a senior-to-be, and Elena Herchenroether, a rising junior.

“They are awesome kids,” said Burke, who recorded her 100th career win in an 18-3 victory over Winchester Thurston on May 4. “They make me laugh every day. Even though we push them super hard in practice and we have high expectations, at the end of the day they are 15- to 18-year-old kids, so we want to make sure they are having fun in the sport and having fun with each other. They make sure that we get some laughs in between sprints.”

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