Meghan Murray-led Hampton girls basketball team a work in progress

Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Hampton star point guard Meghan Murray is being realistic when she expects the Talbots to start slow this season.

With two-fifths of their starting lineup playing deep into November for the school’s WPIAL champion and PIAA finalist volleyball team, the Talbots girls basketball team got a late start to cohesive practices with their entire unit.

“It will definitely be a struggle in the beginning,” said Murray, a first-team all-Section 2-5A selection and Kent State recruit, “but once we get going, I think it will be really good.”

Hampton returns four starters in an all-senior lineup, including 5-foot-9 guard/forward Emma Rick and 5-8 guard/forward Sterling Thomson, who missed most of the fall workouts and the first four days of practice while helping the volleyball team to a 25-1 mark and the most successful season in program history.

While the rest of the WPIAL started official practice Nov. 17, Hampton girls basketball coach Tony Howard had to cancel his first two days of workouts because Rick, Thomson and five freshmen basketball players who are on the Hampton JV volleyball team were out of town for the Nov. 18 state title match. The Talbots didn’t have their first full, all-hands-on-deck practice until Nov. 21.

“There was a little bit of energy in the gym when they showed up,” Howard said of Rick and Thomson. “There was an extra bounce in everybody’s step.”

Because of the late start — and having two other top-seven players miss a bunch of fall workouts while playing soccer — Howard is expecting his team to need some time to find its rhythm. He said the Talbots will use their early-season five-game nonsection schedule to prepare for the rigors of Section 2-5A play, which begins Dec. 14 against visiting New Castle.

“I think we’re definitely not going to hit stride until (mid-December),” Howard said. “Our focus has to be on the section games. We need to keep evolving as a team.”

Murray, who last season averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 assists and 2.3 steals, is joined by senior shooting guard Kathleen Milon (72 3-pointers) to give the Talbots one of the section’s top backcourts. Senior center McKenna Andrews rounds out the starting five for Hampton, which has missed the WPIAL playoffs only twice in the past 31 years. Andrews replaces departed Claire Rodgers, a second-team all-section pick and the lone loss to graduation.

“McKenna is not the same player that Claire was as far as style-wise,” Howard said. “We are definitely trying to do things offensively and defensively because there is a little inexperience there. But I do like how they are meshing and their chemistry on the court.”

Murray, a 1,000-point scorer who committed to Division I Kent State in September, said the starting five has benefited from playing together since third grade. She said that should help the Talbots overcome the offseason challenges.

“We had really low numbers, so it was hard to scrimmage or really do much,” Murray said. “It definitely was a struggle with numbers and actually getting into our stuff, our offense and defense. … But I think we can do good just like we did last year, where we surprised some teams in the playoffs. I think we can be really good.”

Despite being one of the smallest programs in Class 5A — Hampton girls basketball is dropping to 4A for 2024-26 as part of the new PIAA enrollment numbers — the Talbots went 15-11 last season and upset No. 6 Indiana in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. Their section includes Fox Chapel, Shaler, North Hills and Mars.

The top players off the bench will be 5-7 sophomore forward/center Erin Baker and freshman guard Harper Gibbons. Maria Nyilas, a 5-8 sophomore guard, is sidelined with an injury.

The Talbots are undersized and will try to use quickness to offset the lack of height.

“We’re definitely size challenged,” Howard said, “and we’re not sure what we have with depth. We have to find ways to put kids in the right places and do some different things and play as a unit defensively.”

The ultimate goal is to hit full speed before the important section games arrive.

“It might take a minute,” Murray said, “but I think we definitely can make a run once we all get playing together again.”


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