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Young Hampton girls basketball team forges ahead to postseason

| Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Hampton's Jenna Lafko competes against Mars in a Section 1-AAA girls basketball game Thursday, Jan. 4, 2016, at Mars.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Hampton's Laryn Edwards competes against Mars in a Section 1-AAA girls basketball game Thursday, Jan. 4, 2016, at Mars.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Hampton's Natalie Dean competes against Mars in a Section 1-AAA girls basketball game Thursday, Jan. 4, 2016, at Mars.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Hampton's Ali Collins competes against Mars in a Section 1-AAA girls basketball game Thursday, Jan. 4, 2016, at Mars.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Hampton's Mackenzie Bittner competes against Mars in a Section 1-AAA girls basketball game Thursday, Jan. 4, 2016, at Mars.

A lot has changed since 2011 for the Hampton girls basketball team. New players. New coach.

But one thing is certain: Hampton — along with Mars — would finish at the top of Section 1-AAA standings each of the past five years.

Judging by the young talent on both squads — the top three scorers on each team are all underclassmen — that success will continue.

It was no surprise Thursday when the Talbots had a chance to claim an outright section championship, and Mars stood in their way.

Mars (16-5, 11-1) edged Hampton (15-5, 11-1), using a 22-8 third-quarter run on its home court to propel itself to a 61-57 victory and a share of the crown.

Howard, who coached the past eight years at Mars before taking the reins at Hampton to work closer to home, has been on both sides of these tough section battles. Despite the loss, he thinks the team is focused on the big picture.

“I know they were disappointed that they didn't get to cut down the nets, but it was still a successful season,” Howard said. “I think Mars is a formidable team and I think we played well. … I think that game will make us better.”

Seemingly echoing its coach's sentiment, Hampton bounced back Saturday in a nonsection game against playoff-bound Hempfield and pulled out a 53-48 victory.

“It was a great win,” guard Ali Collins said. “We were looking forward to playing (Hempfield). … We didn't know how we were going to do as a team.”

Collins, along with fellow sophomore Laryn Edwards, are first-year starters that have been pleasant surprises. Both are among the leading scorers for a Hampton team that claimed at least a share of its fourth section championship in five years.

“They both have the capability to score big points,” Howard said. “It's hard to remember sometimes they are just sophomores. They were really thrown in the fire and they really exceeded my expectations.

“They're still young pups, but the potential is there. The sky is the limit for them.”

Collins and Edwards share a close bond on and off the court.

“She's my best friend,” said Collins of Edwards. The have played together since elementary school. “We have really good communication and a feel for each other.”

Heading into the WPIAL playoffs, Hampton also will look to junior forward Natalie Dean to make plays down low and take pressure off its guards, with junior guard Jenna Lafko controlling action up top.

“This team … there's just something about this team,” Howard. “I'm more confident going into games with them than I was any other year, and that is saying something.”

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.

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