Hampton maintains level of success during strong girls basketball season

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Saturday, March 12, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls basketball team rang up one of the best regular seasons in school history.

The Talbots did not lose a game in December, won 11 of their first 12 contests and captured seven of eight down the season’s home stretch.

Balanced scoring and full-court defensive pressure sparked the Talbots to the 8-0 start. Only the 2016-17 squad, which won its first 11 games, had a better start in the program’s past 20 years.

In all, Hampton, the defending section champion this year, finished with an 18-4 regular-season record and 9-3 mark in Section 2-5A, good for a tie for second place with Mars.

“Our success the past two years (Hampton finished 15-6 in 2020-21) makes one forget how hard it is to win a varsity contest,” coach Tony Howard said. “I don’t believe anyone should take 18 wins for granted. These girls are to be commended for another tremendous season.

“The girls have so much to be proud of in the way they competed and played the game. As we worked through another year of the pandemic, these girls were so exciting to watch and brought smiles to so many faces. If this was the WBNA, I wouldn’t trade any girl on the roster and run it again.”

The Talbots, who lost to Oakland Catholic, 42-35, in the WPIAL first round to end up 18-5, split their two-game series with section champ Indiana, Mars and Armstrong and won twice against Plum, Kiski Area and Fox Chapel in section play.

“We got a bad break from covid that cost us an early section loss,” said Howard, Hampton’s seventh-year floor boss. “The girls bounced back and got themselves back into the race, then came up short against a very good Indiana team. No shame in losing to Indiana as they were very talented. (Class) 5A was so loaded.

“We were 18-3 when the brackets were made and got an eight seed. Pretty much one through 10 could beat anyone on any given night. I was really happy that our group proved they could play with Oakland Catholic and gave themselves the opportunity to win that game.”

Hampton’s starting five consisted of senior guards Sophia Kelly and Kayla Hoehler, sophomore guard Meghan Murray, senior forward Biz Watson and junior forward Claire Rodgers. Kelly, Watson and Rodgers are listed at 6-foot tall, Hoehler at 5-10 and Murray at 5-5.

Murray led the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and assists (4.3 rpg).

“I think we did great as a team,” she said, “but our playoff seeding was unfortunate. We played a (tough) team right out of the gate. We played really well.”

Kelly averaged 10.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists while Watson was the team’s leading rebounder.

Kelly, Hoehler, Murray and Watson were returning starters in 2021-22. Hoehler and Kelly moved into the program’s top 15 in total career points.

Murray, the team’s starting point guard, also competes in lacrosse at Hampton and participates in AAU basketball with SLAAM in the offseason.

“My season was good,” Murray said, “and I feel like I improved from last year, especially since last year I was new to the high school style. It took a little bit to get comfortable, but this year I knew what to expect. Unfortunately, after Christmas break, I was quarantined and had to sit out two games.”

Watson, who transferred from North Allegheny prior to her junior year, recovered from a high-ankle sprain suffered last summer.

Senior forwards Carolyn Kuzniewski, who at 6-1 was Hampton’s tallest player, and Addie Klocko provided frontcourt depth in reserve roles.

“The seniors — Sophia, Kayla, Biz, Carolyn and Addie — were a tremendous group of girls to coach over their careers,” Howard said, “and great role models for all the younger girls in our program. We will greatly miss all the seniors next season and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.”

Other reserves this year included guards Kat Milon and Emma Rick, Sterling Thomson, a guard/forward, plus forwards McKenna Andrews and Julia Herrmann. All five are sophomores.

Milon, a 5-7 backcourt player, shot 35% from 3-point range.

“Kat was a pleasant surprise for us,” Howard said. “We knew she’d have a role on the team, but she really stepped up and filled Liv Bianco’s role very nice.

“Kat’s athleticism, competitiveness and defense gave us an energy when she was on the floor. She routinely was assigned the opponent’s best guard and continually knocked down open 3-point shots for us in big games.

“One of the reasons for our success is the depth of young talent we have that made practices so competitive and productive. These youngsters are ready for their opportunity to step into the limelight and play at a high level.”

Hampton averaged 54 points per game while allowing 38.4, the second-lowest defensive average in 5A. The Talbots held seven opponents — McDowell, Kiski Area, Seton LaSalle, Deer Lakes, Brentwood, Fox Chapel and Plum — to less than 30 points.

“The future looks bright,” Howard said. “While we lose five great (senior) teammates and a lot of firepower, we return some important parts with a lot of experience.”

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