Hampton girls off to red-hot start after adopting up-tempo style

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Saturday, January 30, 2021 | 9:01 AM


Not even a pandemic — or having to run pregame drills in the school cafeteria — can slow down the Hampton girls basketball team.

Coming off back-to-back losing seasons, the Talbots have sprinted to one of their best starts in at least two decades.

A 71-27 victory over Central Valley on Jan. 27 improved Hampton to 8-1 (4-1 in Section 2-5A), including seven wins in a row.

“We’ve got stopped a couple times because of covid, but we always come back as good as before, if not better,” senior guard Cassie Reinert said. “Having (to deal with) covid, we play our best knowing we might not have another game.”

The sense of urgency is paying off.

Only twice in the past 20 seasons has Hampton enjoyed a better start: in 2016-17, when the Talbots opened 11-0 on the way to a 23-4 record and a spot in the WPIAL semifinals, and in 2009-10, when they began 9-1.

This comes after a two-year stretch in which Hampton went a combined 11-32 and missed the playoffs both seasons following a 26-year WPIAL postseason run from 1993-2018.

“The past two years we didn’t do as good as we’d like,” said Reinert, a team captain. “But we’ve made a lot of progress, and we’re playing a lot more aggressive and faster.”

“It’s been hard this year, but we all knew this was going to be our season.”

Coach Tony Howard is pleased with the team’s effort but is keeping the impressive record in perspective.

“It’s early,” he said. “My goal right now is to get us to keep playing better. We’ll see. … I’m kind of just enjoying the moment right now.”

The Talbots couldn’t play much better than their mid-January surge, going 5-0 with victories over WPIAL Class 6A Peters Township and section foes Mars and Plum. They capped the busy nine-day run with a 51-17 rout of Deer Lakes on Jan. 22.

“I’ve had a lot of good weeks,” Howard said, “but I think it was one of the better weeks of my coaching career.”

The Talbots are thriving despite multiple covid shutdowns — the three-week state-mandated “pause” and then a four-day stoppage at Hampton — that deprived them of valuable practice time.

Through it all, the Talbots have adapted on the run.

Prior to the 68-41 win over visiting Plum on Jan. 21, the Talbots needed to work on their out-of-bounds plays. But there was a problem. The main gym was hosting the girls junior varsity game and the auxiliary gym was holding a baseball practice. So they descended on the school cafeteria to do walk-through drills.

“People were looking at us like we were crazy,” Howard said.

Added Reinert, “We take what we can and deal with it and do the best that we can.”

The highlight of the winning streak was a 57-56 victory over rival Mars on Jan. 18, snapping a six-game skid against the Planets. Hampton will try to sweep Mars for the first time since 2012-13 when they meet Feb. 11.

The Talbots, who visit Fox Chapel on Feb. 5 in a rematch of their only loss, have embraced a new fast-paced attack that Howard installed this season to take advantage of the team’s athleticism and depth.

Junior guards Sophia Kelly and Kayla Hoehler are each averaging about 15 points and North Allegheny transfer Biz Watson, a 5-foot-11 junior, is making a big impact on both ends of the floor.

Although the game-day stands at Hampton are mostly empty because of covid restrictions, Howard said the Talbots are getting noticed.

“I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from fans, from guys who are streaming the games, and people from home about the speed of the game and how hard and how fast they play,” Howard said. “It’s fun to watch.”

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