As two-time defending runners-up, Hampton wants this to be the season it finally can celebrate.
“The past two years we came up one win short,” said senior Collin Luther, whose Talbots reached but lost WPIAL championships the past two winters. “The goal this year is to take that next step and finish. It would be terrible to go back to the Palumbo Center and lose for the third year in a row.”
Six veteran players return from last season's lineup, including four starters; the fifth starter from last season chose to not play his senior season.
Along with Collin Luther (6-6), the Talbots have his twin brother Ryan Luther, a 6-8 Pitt commit, plus junior guards Joey Lafko and David Huber. Senior guard Jack Obringer joins the lineup.
“We have the experience and the leadership,” Collin Luther said. “We just have to get it done.”
With both experience and Division I talent, Hampton starts the season ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA. Ranked No. 2 is New Castle, the WPIAL-title roadblock that stopped Hampton the past two seasons.
But graduation has thinned New Castle's lineup, leaving Hampton as the team to beat.
“It's an honor,” Ryan Luther said, “but what matters is your ranking at the end of the year.”
Hampton reached the WPIAL final in five of the past eight seasons. But the Talbots own just one WPIAL title, won in 2009 when the Luthers' brother, Bill, was a junior.
Along with second-place finishes in 2012 and '11, the Talbots were WPIAL runners-up in 2010.
“Everyone is kind of sick of not finishing it,” Ryan Luther said.
Rather than play football this fall, the Luthers concentrated on the weight room. Adding strength became a goal for the entire team.
“This year we're going to play more aggressively and really try to attack teams,” Collin Luther said.
But with its strength, Hampton needs patience. The Talbots can't be concerned with February in December, coach Joe Lafko said.
“This team has shown it has that ability,” he said. “We just have to maintain that focus.”
Section 3 was Class AAAA's strongest last season, sending four teams to the semifinals. And while it likely won't be as dominant this season, Lafko cautioned his team against dreaming about Palumbo Center too soon.
“There's definitely a sense of urgency,” Collin Luther said. “We have six seniors, and we all know this is our last shot. We have the players and the capability to make another run. And, this year, to finish it off.”
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