Hopes are sky high for Hampton girls volleyball

Saturday, September 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The Hampton girls volleyball team looks so promising this season that winning a section title would hardly qualify as a goal.

It’s more of a given.

Led by returning two-time all-state senior outside hitter Emmy Schrom and a deep, talented supporting cast, the Talbots will be defined by what happens in their nonsection schedule and in the postseason beyond.

“They are hungry,” second-year coach Dainen Holler said, “and they know that they have a good opportunity this year to do something special.”

Hampton steamrolled to the Section 1-3A title last year in its first season pitted against mainly eastern suburb schools such as Plum, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills. The Talbots went 12-0 on the way to the program’s first outright section title, never losing a section game all season, going a perfect 36-0.

But the season came to a halt when the then-undefeated No. 2 seeded Talbots lost to No. 10 South Fayette, 3-1, in WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals. One year after reaching the WPIAL and PIAA finals, Hampton settled for a 19-1 overall record, a section title and an abrupt playoff exit.

“This year, something that will be a little different is that no one is going to take them lightly,” Holler said. “We’ve gone from being a good team and ranked high, but we haven’t been the team to beat. With that expectation, I’m excited to see how the girls can rise to that challenge of knowing they kind of have a target on their back.”

The Talbots return five of their top seven players and welcome a gifted freshman in their bid to contend for a WPIAL crown.

Beside Schrom, the Talbots also bring back second-team all-WPIAL senior libero Avery Koontz, who had a team-high 256 digs last season, first-team all-section senior outside hitter Emma Rick, and a pair of second-team all-section performers — senior middle hitter Allison Schepner and sophomore setter Lilly Muczinski, who had 551 assists during a breakout freshman season.

“So far, we are looking good,” said Rick, who was second on the team in aces (32) and digs (142). “It was sad to see us end so early (last season). That is really pushing us to do better this year.”

Other returnees include senior hitters Brooklyn Eastly and Sterling Thomson and a talented group of juniors, setter Cassidy Thompson among them.

The top newcomer is 5-foot-8 freshman outside hitter Marin Katona-Bock, who plays for the Pitt Elite club team. The daughter of Carnegie Mellon women’s volleyball coach Anne Bock, she is an outstanding athlete and measured a 25-inch standing vertical jump during tryouts, the best on the team.

“She’s very good,” Schrom said.

Schrom, however, is the unquestioned leader. The Duquesne recruit is listed at 6-1 but plays much taller because of her long arms and athleticism. She led the Talbots last season with 229 kills and added a team-high 58 aces with a devastating jump serve.

The Talbots stayed busy this offseason. Schrom and Muczinski paired to win a couple of grass volleyball events, and Koontz and Schepner played on the winning team at the inaugural Queens of the ‘Burgh volleyball tournament in early August in Monroeville.

The Talbots, who were set to open the season Aug. 29 against visiting Armstrong, loaded up their nonsection and tournament schedule to prepare for the playoffs. They are meeting Thomas Jefferson, Montour, Mars, Penn-Trafford and Montour and were scheduled to play in the Mt. Lebanon Invitational on Sept. 2 and the Shaler Tournament on Sept. 9.

The Shaler Tournament could give the Talbots another shot at nemesis South Fayette, which has beaten Hampton four times in the past three seasons — twice in the WPIAL playoffs and twice at Shaler.

“I’m real excited to play them again,” Muczinski said. “I feel like the energy is really high now and our skill level has definitely improved from last year.”

Holler said the nonsection schedule and the Talbots’ own practices should brace them for the playoffs.

“With our strength of schedule in section, we need to play those games … to help our ranking and stay competitive throughout the season,” Holler said. “With our depth, we have so many girls who are capable of stepping in, and that leads to intense practices. Our greatest competition throughout the season is really ourselves.”


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