Hampton’s Vitaliy Pikalo ascends to No. 1 singles spot

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Saturday, March 25, 2023 | 11:01 AM


In tennis, “love” is another word for zero.

But for Hampton’s No. 1 singles player, adoration for his newfound sport has added up to a lot.

Junior Vitaliy Pikalo, a lifelong swimmer who started playing tennis only two years ago, has used his devotion to the courts to claim the top spot in the Talbots’ lineup.

“My freshman year, if they had told me, ‘Hey, you are going to play first singles someday,’ I probably wouldn’t have believed them,” he said. “It’s very exciting considering it all came from basically zero. It’s just incredible.”

Pikalo, who began swimming as a preschooler and was part of Hampton’s back-to-back WPIAL Class 2A team champions in 2021-22, tried out for tennis as a ninth grader because some of his friends were part of the team. He immediately was attracted to it.

The 6-foot-4 Pikalo played doubles for the Hampton junior varsity team as a freshman before improving enough to vault to No. 2 singles last season.

“I didn’t really care so much about results,” he said. “I just came out to have fun. Then it got to a point where I loved it so much that I kept going with it.”

With the graduation of WPIAL qualifier Ethen Oh, Pikalo this spring won the team tryout for the No. 1 singles spot.

“I don’t think anyone is going to challenge him for that,” Hampton coach Grant McKinney said. “I think he will own that this year. He’s excited about that.”

Pikalo leads a youthful lineup for Hampton, which is looking to return to the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs for the third consecutive year. Junior Ben LaRusse is starting at No. 2 singles and either sophomore J.J. Edwards or freshman Jackson Mayer is at No. 3 singles.

Juniors Hayden List and Matthew Mason form the No. 1 doubles team, and Luke Proviano, the only senior on the roster, and junior Garrett Wesley hold down No. 2 doubles. Junior Brandon Pascucci provides depth for the Talbots, who opened the season with a 3-2 loss to visiting Chartiers Valley on March 16.

“They look good. They’ve worked hard,” McKinney said of his team. “It’s mostly the same team as last year, just without (Oh). Everyone has had to get a little bit better.”

Pikalo has gotten a lot better since he first started playing tennis. He enjoyed it so much, he found himself spending hours each day hitting the ball with friends, partners and coaches.

“I was addicted to the sport,” he said. “I would come out every single day in the summer.”

McKinney, a 14th-year coach, said Pikalo’s biggest improvement this offseason was his serve.

Pikalo, who will compete in the WPIAL Section 3-2A singles tournament March 28-29, said allegiance and loyalty to the sport is the reason for his development.

“The coaches tell me I have the height, and I should have a good serve,” Pikalo said. “But with anything, it’s not so much about natural talent, it’s about hard work. Anyone can be talented, but if they don’t put the effort into it they aren’t going to be at that level.”

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