New era begins for Hampton girls basketball
It might be Tony Howard’s fourth year at the helm of Hampton girls basketball, but it will be a year of firsts.
Starting in 2015, he inherited a talented team and took the Talbots on an impressive three-year run. The team went 62-16 (33-3 in section), capturing three section titles and two state playoff berths.
Laryn Edwards (Loyola, Md.), Ali Collins (Seton Hill) and Brooke Fuller (Waynesburg) graduated, along with three other seniors Howard estimates accounted for more than 90 percent of the team’s scoring.
“Obviously, when you graduate three girls going to play college basketball and then three other seniors, that’s going to take up a lot of your court time,” Howard said.
Though Howard admits it is a rebuilding year for Hampton, he couldn’t be more pleased with the early returns.
“It may have been the best two weeks I’ve had here,” he said of preseason practice.
“They’re just real energetic and open to coaching. They’ve made great strides and want to learn. A lot of it is just going to come down to experience. We’re so young.”
Senior Maddie Stevens is the lone returning senior with experience and will be needed in the low post with the graduation of Fuller. Senior Amanda Moser, a key player in leading the girls soccer team to a state playoff berth this fall, returns to the fold after a two-year absence.
Sophomore Olivia Bianco will run the point. Her ability to earn playing time as a freshman on a senior-laden team last year showed her ability.
“She started the second half of the season as a two guard last year,” Howard said. “She’ll be running stuff on our end as point guard.”
The year Howard started, he started two young, talented guards in Edwards and Collins. He can only hope that same success eventually replicates down the road for freshmen Sophie Kelly and Kayla Hoehler.
“They are going to get thrown in the mix off the bat,” Howard said. “They’ve shown their ability to score with the basketball. We can’t expect them to come in and do what Ali and Laryn did, but potentially we hope to build with them.”
Sophomore Kate Schmitt also saw time last year but is battling a knee injury and hopes to return soon. Juniors Katie Baker and Kayla Januck will look to help down low, and sophomore Cass Reinert will see time at the three guard.
With all the new faces and no established go-to scoring threats, Howard is preaching a holistic team approach with his philosophy, though a lot of the overall strategy — move the ball and play fast — will remain the same.
“We’re giving our girls the same concepts,” Howard said. “But we’re instilling to really use five girls on the court, read the play instead of physically or athletically making the play work. We have to play more team concepts.”
One first Howard is hoping to avoid will be missing the playoffs as a coach for the Talbots. Hampton will have its work cut out for it. The team’s section (2-5A) includes the reigning state champs and rival Mars, as well as a newcomer in Gateway, which won the WPIAL title last season.
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.