Hampton volleyball program headed in right direction

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Thursday, October 31, 2019 | 9:11 PM


The Hampton girls volleyball team may have not made it as far in the playoffs as it did last year, but it has to feel like it took a step forward.

After all, it was this senior class which, four years ago, sat as JV freshmen and watched the Talbots rise from virtual program anonymity to a WPIAL runner-up.

“Since that year, we’ve all worked really hard to maintain that title and be a playoff team,” said senior captain Claire Braun, who did not join until her sophomore season. “I think we all do really feel like we’ve contributed to that as a whole.”

The program that flourished the past few years with Pitt recruit Anastasia Russ continued its winning ways this season under new leadership on and off the court.

Hampton finished 11-3 in a section that included Knoch, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions. Coach Mike Hansen, in his first year leading the team along with wife Mary, had a blast.

“The kids were great,” he said. “They were perfectly behaved. Just a quality group of individuals. They came to practice every day wanting to get better. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

That included a strong leadership contingent that helped bring the team close: Braun, Katie Januck, Maggie Laffin, Gillian Mulcahy, Grace Rydzak, Jayden Davis and Kyra Ribar. The team pushed through the season into a tough eight vs. nine matchup in the first round of the playoffs against West Allegheny, and it lost in five sets.

“We all think we had a good run,” Braun said. “We were just mentally and physically exhausted at that point. We wanted to win the game and gave it everything we had and left everything on the court. So we can’t be upset with how it ended.”

Hansen told the girls to look at the big picture. Every team in the state ends its season with a loss with the exception of four.

“Obviously we’re upset that it’s over, but we truly felt like we were a team this year,” Braun said. “The hardest part is not losing a game. It’s the fact our team will never be the same again and knowing that was the last time we got to play together.”

For the ones that will be playing together next year, there’s plenty to look forward to. Junior Addie Syglowski had an excellent season as a first-year starter, as did sophomore Claudia Braun in her first year as a setter. Juniors Lily Obendorfer and Julia Resch also will return as starters.

The real headliner might be sophomore middle hitter Kai Herchenroether.

“I think she’s going to blow everyone away next year,” Hansen said. “I project to being one of the best middle hitters in the section or even the WPIAL the next couple of years. She’s improved so much.”

The program is healthy under Hansen’s watch, and the transition period at the beginning of the season seems long behind the team.

“He’s really changing the culture of Hampton volleyball,” Braun said. “The beginning was really hard for us seniors because we were used to something completely different. As a whole, I think the coaching switch made us closer as a team and only benefitted us.”

Hansen wanted the seniors to feel like they were a part of something special.

“I want them to look back years from now and say I was part of the start of this new direction,” Hansen said. “And I think they embraced that, saying, ‘I was a part of that, and Hampton volleyball is something special now.’”

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