Hampton girls basketball carries momentum through ‘pause’
Sunday, January 10, 2021 | 9:01 AM
Hampton had the “best, most intense” three-week preseason in Tony Howard’s 14 years as a girls basketball coach.
Then came three weeks with a whole lot of nothing.
“They are ready to get back,” Howard said. “There was some excitement building around the team, and we had a lot of positive energy. I think a sense of normalcy would be good for everyone.”
Following a three-week winter sports shutdown mandated by Gov. Tom Wolf, the Talbots returned to practice Jan. 4 and were scheduled to resume play Friday, Jan. 8, against visiting Quaker Valley.
Hampton (1-0) was able to play its opener on Dec. 11, hours before the temporary pause to the season, defeating McDowell, 53-45, behind 20 points apiece from senior Kayla Hoehler and junior Sophia Kelly.
But in the meantime, they resorted to Zoom meetings and individual workouts amid the covid-19 shutdown.
“Given the circumstances, we’ve handled it well,” Kelly said. “I was probably one of the most upset about it because I was really looking forward to this season.
“We had a couple rebuilding years, last year and the year before, and this year we have a very solid team and we were looking forward to it. It was upsetting to everyone.”
Nine games were affected by the shutdown, and three of them — Seneca Valley, Central Valley, Deer Lakes — will not be rescheduled.
The regular season was extended two weeks — the Talbots now finish Feb. 25 — and the WPIAL will hold an open tournament with every team qualifying for the playoffs.
The Talbots will play 18 more regular-season games, including six that have been moved to different dates from the original schedule.
Howard said the shutdown provided a “good mental break” for his players. He installed a new fast-paced attack, and the grueling early practices reflected the up-tempo approach.
“It was the best, most intense, hard three-week practice session of preseason that I’ve ever had,” said Howard, who is in his sixth season at Hampton following eight years at Mars. “Every practice, every drill has been ultra-competitive and high intensity.”
Howard said the Talbots’ performance against McDowell — they led 21-5 after one quarter — proved to the coaches and players that the new style of play can succeed.
“The coaches looked at each other before tipoff and said, ‘Is this going to work or not? It could blow up in our face,’” Howard said. “But for us to jump out like that and play that well, hopefully, it gives the girls a belief. That’s a big part of the battle going forward.”
The Talbots will get no rest. They were scheduled to play three games in four days upon returning to action: Quaker Valley on Friday, at Knoch on Saturday and home against Fox Chapel on Monday, Jan. 11.
But with a cloud of uncertainty expected to hang over the season for the next two months, the Talbots plan to approach every game just like they did the opener against McDowell.
“I was just excited that we got to play one game, especially knowing that we were shutting down right after that and not all teams were even getting an opportunity to play,” Kelly said. “My attitude going into that was to leave it all out there and play as much as I could and as hard as I could.”