Hampton swim team primed for WPIAL title defense

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Sunday, February 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Hampton swim coach Morgan Zweygardt indicated early in the 2021-22 season that the defending WPIAL Class 2A champion Talbots have not rested on their laurels.

Last year’s WPIAL championship was the team’s first in 22 years; it may not take nearly that long for another one.

Hampton has relied on a solid group of versatile, high-caliber swimmers this season — along with outstanding team depth — to post a 7-4 record with wins against the likes of Penn Hills, Northgate, North Hills, Gateway, Butler, Shady Side Academy and Mars.

The Talbots appear to be poised and confident as they attempt to successfully defend their WPIAL title March 3-4 at Pitt’s Trees Hall.

“I believe we will have a strong showing,” said Zweygardt, Hampton’s sixth-year coach. “The boys have put in the work and have a great camaraderie. We could have several top 16 finishes. This is going to be the first time for several to have a true shave and taper meet. I am excited to see how they do.

“I think our biggest competition will be North Catholic and Riverside. They have strong programs and are doing well this season.”

Many of the athletes on this year’s Hampton team are recognizable names from last year’s championship squad.

The Talbots’ top two competitors are standouts in the pool: senior Will Retsch and junior Ben Sheets.

“The boys team has outperformed all of my expectations,” Retsch said. “It has been incredible watching them work, day in and day out, and I couldn’t be prouder to be there with them. We all have big expectations coming back to WPIALs after last year. We are looking to have some great races and bring home another win.

“Personally, my season couldn’t be going better. I am faster than I have ever been in preseason meets and have already broken a team record, though I am looking for more. I am super excited to see what this postseason has in store for our whole team.”

The reigning WPIAL 200 IM champion, Retsch has qualified for the WPIAL finals in all eight individual events and shattered the school record (57.72) in the 100 breaststroke Feb. 2 at Rine-Richland.

“Will is the most focused, positive swimmer I have had in a few years,” Zweygardt said. “I am excited by his versatility, and I am excited to see what he does at WPIALs and states this year.”

Sheets also has advanced to the WPIAL meet in all eight individual events.

“Ben has been consistent this year and improving as the season went on,” Zweygardt said. “He is more focused than he has been in years past, which comes with age and experience.”

Retsch, who placed fourth in the WPIAL 100 backstoke last season, and Sheets also participate on all three qualifying relays units for the Talbots.

Sheets, son of Duquesne University coach Dave Sheets, swam about 6,000 meters a day during the summer. His speciality remains the 100 back.

“I’m very proud of the team at this point in the season,” Sheets said. “I think that everyone did an amazing job. We all worked very hard, and it was overall a great season.

“I would like nothing more than to take home a second consecutive WPIAL championship, and I think we have enough pieces in place to be able to do that.”

On a personal note, Sheets aims to win the 100 back and place in the top five in the 200 IM at WPIALs.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think I’m up for it,” he said. “My season has been good. I am at the times I would like to be at, and I think it puts me in a good position to succeed.

“I’d also like to qualify for the prelims and finals at the state meet.”

Other returning swimmers for Hampton from 2020-21 include seniors Davis Gindelsperger (sprint free) and Michael Belch (fly), along with sophomores Zach Sutterlin (breast), Viltaliy Pikalo (free) and Dan Bratu (free).

Between them, the three sophs — Bratu (200 free, 100 fly, 100 free), Sutterlin (100 breast, 200 IM, 500 free) and Pikalo (100 back, 200 free) — have clinched WPIAL spots in eight events.

“Dan Bratu made huge strides since last season,” Zweygardt said. “He has been a joy to watch evolve in the sport as he begins to understand the ins and outs more.”

Michael Belch (100 free, 100 fly, 100 back), freshman Chris Belch (200 IM, 100 fly, 100 back), Gindelsperger (50 free, 100 free) and senior Ethan Oh (100 fly, 200 IM) also are qualifiers.

Michael and Chris Belch hail from a talented swim family.

“They have another brother Matt who graduated in 2020 and was a huge part of our success to get to third place in 3A that year,” Zweygardt said.

All three of the Talbots relay units will participate at WPIALs.

Sheets, Sutterlin, Retsch and Gindelsperger make up the medley. Retsch, Bratu, Sheets and Michael Belch are 200 free relayers. Retsch, Bratu, Gindelsperger and Sheets team up in the 200 free.

“All of our relays are strong,” Zweygardt said. “We are a pretty diverse team, so I look to our medley as being one of the strongest relays (at the WPIAL meet).”

Retsch and Sheets formed half of the Talbots’ WPIAL record-setting gold-medal 200 medley relay unit last season, along with graduated seniors Richie Donato and Ethan Apaliski.

Donato rewrote the school’s record book in the 100 breast while placing second in both the WPIAL and the state.

Finally, Hampton freshman Pax Carslaw qualified for the WPIAL diving finals. He joined the Talbots’ 200 club for diving Feb. 10 at home against Seneca Valley.

Carslaw’s older brother, Koda, placed third at the 2021 WPIAL diving championships but is sitting out his junior season following knee surgery.

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