Hampton tennis reaches WPIAL playoffs thanks to unexpected help from section foe Indiana

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Saturday, May 1, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The pizza and cupcakes started to taste a little bit better to the Hampton boys tennis team.

The Talbots were holding a post-match birthday celebration for senior teammate Coray Bennett on April 23 at their home tennis court when they received a text from coach Grant McKinney.

The players learned Indiana had beaten Knoch, forcing a three-way tie for fourth-place in Section 3-AA and clinching a WPIAL playoff berth for Hampton.

“We were not expecting it,” said junior Ethen Oh, the Talbots’ No. 1 singles player.

Hampton had blanked Indiana, 5-0, and lost to Knoch, 3-2, during the regular season. So the Talbots’ playoff destiny rested on an Indiana victory, which would leave all three teams playoff-bound at 4-4 in the section. The Talbots’ cheer was “1-2-3, go Indiana.” The Little Indians obliged, winning 5-0 with all five matches going three sets.

“It was kind of awkward having someone else control our fate,” senior doubles player Teja Chaparala said after practice at Hampton Community Park. “We hung out here on the grass and had pizza and cupcakes. We got the text, and it was great. A lot of people were out of energy from the match (a 5-0 loss to Moon), but in our minds everyone was thinking ‘This is great.’”

Said Oh, “It was pretty stressful. It was out of our hands. It’s a new season and the majority of these guys haven’t played on varsity yet. It’s super gratifying to know we managed to put in the hard work to make it to the playoffs.”

The No. 17-seeded Talbots were scheduled to travel to No. 15 seed Neshannock on Monday in the preliminary round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. The winner will advance to meet No. 2 seed South Park on Tuesday in the first round.

This is the first taste of the postseason for every Talbot.

This is also Hampton’s first season back in Class AA after an eight-year stint in Class AAA. McKinney, a 12th-year coach, said win or lose, the postseason experience will help a team that brings back Oh and eight freshmen.

“We were with the best 16 teams at the AA level, which I think it’s a statement,” McKinney said. “Making the playoffs is such a big thing in sports, and I think it makes them have a perspective for the future. We were a low seed. Now let’s get better and keep making the playoffs.”

Some of the Talbots had already competed in the WPIAL Class AA individual events. In the Section 3-AA singles tournament, Oh lost to Valley senior Thomas Albert, 10-8, in the quarterfinals, and senior Adam Rothenberg fell to Valley sophomore Nick Bussard, 10-8, in first round on April 8.

In section doubles two weeks later, Oh and Rothenberg reached the quarterfinals, and freshmen Justin Rothenberg and Hayden List lost in the first round.

Oh posted the top victory of the season when he outlasted Bussard in their regular-season meeting, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, at No. 1 singles, a 4-1 Valley win.

“I would say that was the biggest match of his career,” McKinney said of Oh. “He didn’t try to push the ball in or be tentative. He just believed in his game.”

The WPIAL playoff berth extends the 2021 season for the Talbots, who played a demanding nonsection schedule.

“The playoffs give you a chance to really give it your all another time,” said Justin Rothenberg, who pairs with List on an all-freshman No. 2 doubles team. “Playing up against better teams and a lot better matches gives you a chance to gauge where you are. … And a lot of times you might surprise yourself how well you played, even if you lose.”

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