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Hampton girls wrap up memorable volleyball season

HJHamptonvolleyAnastasiaRuss090116
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Hampton's Anastasia Russ takes part in volleyball practice Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, at Hampton.

Most sports programs rise and fall in a long series of turning points. It just so happened this year, many of those points came together at once to make the girls volleyball team Hampton’s sports story of the fall.

A team that hadn’t made the playoffs in four years under coach Matt Robertson took a combination of senior leadership built through tough times, a rising star underclassman and a favorable class realignment to push its way to a 14-3 overall record, which included a Section 4-AAA co-championship, a trip to the WPIAL finals and a state playoff appearance.

“I was a little surprised we were playing for the WPIAL title,” said Robertson. “It wasn’t that I didn’t think we could, but coming from last year, not making the playoffs and then getting to that game was a huge accomplishment for the girls.”

The Talbots, who suffered an early season loss to section co-champ Knoch, never lost another game going into the final week of the season. It was there the team would forge its championship mettle. Not only were the final two games against section rivals and playoff qualifiers Knoch and Mars, but it would be a harbinger of things to come.

“I didn’t like how our schedule was laid out at the beginning of the year,” Robertson said. “But it worked out real well for us.”

Not only did Hampton sweep both games to grab a share of the section title, it set the Talbots up for a playoff run that few outside the locker room saw coming.

“It was definitely a big jump,” said center Mia Ringeisen, who, along with twin sister Hanna, had been through three tough seasons. “It’s been our goal to make the playoffs. To make it to the final two is a big accomplishment. Our seniors, we’ve been really committed and acted as strong leaders. The underclassmen were all willing to put in the work during the offseason.”

After ousting Obama Academy in the first round, the Talbots had to play Mars and Knoch a third time. It was there Robertson noted the positioning of the schedule, and the effect beating both in the last week of the regular season had.

“It gave us the confidence to let the girls know we were one of the best teams in the WPIAL and could compete for a WPIAL title,” he said.

In the title game against undefeated West Allegheny, Hampton took the first set before conceding the next three.

“I think it was the first time I saw in the playoffs they played nervous,” said Robertson.

Ringeisen agreed.

“West Allegheny definitely played a lot better, but I think we kind of let it get to us and started lacking in different areas: our energy, our consistency,” she said. “It was definitely a learning experience just being there.”

It might have been tough to get there without the emergence of 6-foot-3 sophomore Anastasia Russ, who went from junior varsity freshman to sophomore sensation.

“In my opinion, she’s one of the best players in the WPIAL,” Robertson said.

In the state playoffs, Hampton dropped its first contest to District 6 champion Somerset, but that did not detract from the season.

“We had never been to the playoffs before,” Robertson said. “I wasn’t too sure how the girls would react to pressure situations. We did a great job of getting into that playoff mentality.”

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.

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