Hampton boys soccer to face new class of opponents
With nothing left to prove in Class AA, maybe all that can slow down the Hampton boys soccer team is the PIAA engaging in some Class warfare.
The Talbots are the two-time reigning WPIAL Class AA champions — but they are not defending champions. That's because Hampton was moved up to Class AAA for this two-year cycle.
It's a move reminiscent of the promotion/relegation model used in European soccer where the better teams are moved to the more prominent league and those at the bottom moved “down.”
Hampton's move, of course, has nothing to do with on-field success and instead is based purely on enrollment figures. But after going 48-3 the past two seasons with two WPIAL titles and one PIAA championship, the Talbots clearly can compete — no matter the level.
“We've been pretty much been kicking (butt) in Double-A, so I think there's excitement in going to Triple-A,” senior forward Zach Kocak said.
“It will be something new for us, something good. Our coach (Chuck Kelley) is a great coach. He knows what he's doing, so I think he will put us in the right places. We will still be competitive.”
Hampton has been much more than merely competitive the past three seasons. The Talbots have played in each of the past three WPIAL championship games, winning the past two. They advanced to the PIAA semifinals all three seasons, making the final in 2009 and '10. Hampton won the PIAA championship two years ago.
A WPIAL team hasn't won the PIAA title in Class AAA since 2007.
“It's just a new challenge for us. We're looking forward to it,” senior forward Justin Carter said. “We had a lot of success in Double-A, and we expect to have the same kind of success in Triple-A. We know it'll be tougher, but hopefully we'll be able to step up.”
In addition, Section 2-AAA might be a better fit for Hampton than Section 2-AA was.
Of the six school districts that border Hampton, four are in the new section (only one, Deer Lakes, was in Section 2-AA). While in the past, the Talbots have had trips of an hour or more to get to section matches. Now only Butler will be a drive of any appreciable distance.
Plus, the Talbots regularly scheduled their new section rivals in nonsection games in past seasons. Many of the better players from the section's teams play for the same club travel teams or grew up playing in the same youth organizations.
“We know them, and they also know us,” Carter said. “It will be pretty fun to be able to compete against your friends, but we've still got to come out and win. We still want to beat them and they still want to beat us.”
Last season, Seneca Valley advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and Pine-Richland to the quarterfinals.
Compounding Hampton's plight is the fact it lost a significant portion of last season's roster to graduation. Kelley said four starters return — and one of them, Carter, is coming off rehabilitation from a torn ACL in his right knee.
Kocak, midfielder Chris Delposen and defender Jeremy Taylor are the other returning starters. Together, they form a senior core of leadership. Carter, Kocak and Delposen share the team's captaincy.
“With such a young team, it's important to have strong leaders,” Kelley said, “and this group has a lot of different qualities. Some of them are vocal leaders, some of emotional leaders, some of them lead by the way they play.
“We have a good balance, and they're going to help our team — our young players — grow throughout this season and mature.”
The strength of Hampton's team has been — and Kelley vows it will continue to be — defense. During a 22-game winning streak last season that included the WPIAL title, the Talbots allowed only 13 goals.
The season before, during the final 23 games of a WPIAL and PIAA-title winning season, 10 goals were scored on Hampton.
That kind of defense wins — no matter the enrollment classification.
“We definitely have a confidence about us considering we were Double-A champions last year,” Kocak said. “But we know the responsibility that we have in Triple-A. We're not going to back down.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.