Strong start in section, tournament play helps Hampton volleyball vault to No. 1 ranking

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Saturday, September 25, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Hampton opened its section schedule in girls volleyball with a pair of impressive victories, blanking Highlands and Knoch by 3-0 scores in early September.

The Talbots also participated in two tournaments, placing second to Pine-Richland at Mt. Lebanon and dropping a 25-23 decision to South Fayette in the semifinal round at Shaler, where their second-year coach Annie Bozzo formerly played and coached.

On Sept. 20, Hampton jumped from No. 5 to No. 1 in Class 3A in the Western PA Volleyball Coaches Association weekly rankings, after sweeping Deer Lakes in a nonsection match Sept. 13 and topping then-No. 2 Freeport, 3-2, in Section 5 action three days later.

“This year’s team is well rounded,” Bozzo said. “We have a very strong offense, and we have a good mix of upper and underclassmen. On any given night, any player can step up.”

Bozzo, 25, graduated from Shaler in December 2014. She was twice named All-WPIAL and all-state, then went on to play at the Division I level at Syracuse, where she majored in inclusive elementary education.

She coached in both the boys and girls programs at Shaler prior to accepting her position at Hampton.

Bozzo’s first season with the Talbots was memorable, as the team’s first order of business was dealing with the global coronavirus pandemic.

Hampton Township School District provided a health and safety plan, which included daily screening, wearing masks, washing hand regularly, using hand sanitizer, wiping off the volleyballs, plus other precautions.

Hampton is aiming this year to extend its WPIAL consecutive playoff streak, which stands at five.

The Talbots finished in a four-way tie for first in Section 5-3A last season with Armstrong, Freeport and Mars, and ended up 11-4 overall.

As the 12th seed, the Talbots nearly upset No. 5 South Fayette in WPIAL first round.

Two All-WPIAL players, 5-foot-4 libero Julia Resch and 5-8 outside hitter Addie Syglowski, graduated from last year’s team. Resch, Syglowski and 5-11 middle blocker Lily Obendorger, another 2021 graduate, were all-section selections.

“We are hoping to win another section title,” Bozzo said. “I’m very excited for our team this year. We have a lot of energy and passion for the game. As long as we keep working hard, I think we have a great season ahead of us.”

The Talbots are led by a trio of returning all-section players in seniors Kai Herchenroether, 6-foot middle hitter; and Claudia Braun, a 5-8 setter; along with 5-11 sophomore outside hitter Emmy Schrom, one of three freshman athletes cited as section all-stars.

Herchenroether is a third-year starter and, off the court, National Honor Society president, treasurer of her school’s student council, and runs a nonprofit that she started, H2GO SERVES, which helps feed a women’s shelter as part of the Multicultural Student Association.

Herchenroether plans to pursue a pre-dental track at an academically prestigious school, with Carnegie Mellon being No. 1 on her list.

“We are attempting to repeat winning the section, striving to make it far in WPIAL playoffs, and hopefully advance to states,” Herchenroether said. “The team has been doing great so far. We are very consistent with a strong offense and steady defense. We are very good at adapting to the game.

“We played in the Mt. Lebanon tournament and the Shaler tournament. We faced tough competition from AAAA in both.”

Herchenroether was lauded Sept. 13 as a Class 3A player of the week by the Western PA Volleyball Coaches Association.

“Kai was named player of the week, which was great,” Bozzo said. “I expect her to be a top performer in blocks and kills, and be the strong leader that she is.”

Herchenroether competed for Revolution Volleyball in the offseason. She traveled with the club to a number of places including Orlando, for nationals, Kentucky, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hagerstown, and more.

She and Braun are serving as Hampton’s co-captains this season.

Other players back from last year include senior Rachel Dolan at libero, seniors Taylor Fiscus and Abby Stevens at outside hitter; junior defensive specialists Maya Obendorfer and Lauren Gale; and sophomores Avery Koontz (libero) and Emma Rick (OH).

“We are constantly updating our starting (rotation) to find which is our strongest lineup,” Bozzo said. “Some constants are Claudia Braun setting, Kai Herchenroether in the middle, Taylor Fiscus and Emmy Schrom hitting outside, and Avery Koontz at libero.

“We have so many other girls who help our lineup stay strong. They can play in many different positions, wherever the team needs them.”

Hampton was rated sixth-best in its division in the preseason rankings, behind Montour, Freeport, Mars, Thomas Jefferson and Armstrong, before making its recent leap to No. 1.

“With Annie coaching for the second year, she’s kept us working hard and everyone is excited to see where we get this year,” Herchenroether said.

Hampton and No. 3 Armstrong blanked Burrell and Knoch, respectively, by 3-0 scores Sept. 21 to set up a showdown two days later (too late for this edition). Sole possession of first place in the section was at stake.

Both teams were 4-0 in league play and 5-0 overall prior to their confrontation.

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