Hampton relies on depth in quest to repeat to WPIAL Class 2A Boys Swimming Champions

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Sunday 12 December 2021 | 9:18 p.m.


The reigning WPIAL Class 2A champion Hampton Men’s Swim Team is hoping the depth is better when it comes to the pool.

The Talbots will be looking to defend their title with less top talent and more roster-wide balance.

“I think we have a lot of depth,” said junior Ben Sheets. “Last year we had a lot more stars, but I think what’s going to help us this year is just more people competing at a high level.”

The Talbots graduated seniors Richie Donato and Ethan Apaliski from the program’s first WPIAL championship swim team in 22 years. They included half of the Talbots’ 200 IM relay team, which set a WPIAL record. Donato rewrote the school’s 100 breaststroke record book while placing second in the WPIAL and State, and Apaliski was fourth in the WPIAL 100 breaststroke.

But the Talbots fire top-caliber swimmers including senior Will Retsch, reigning WPIAL Class 2A 200 IM champion, and Sheets, one of the top seven in the 100 backstroke and 200 IM. They formed the other half of the Talbots’ 200 medal gold medalist relay.

Coach Morgan Zweygardt, entering his sixth season, said the boys’ side showed no signs of disappointment after winning last season in their first year back in Class 2A.

“I think (winning last year) energized them more,” she said. “They originally wanted to win it. As the season wore on we started to say ‘Oh we can win this stuff’. Now they’re like, ‘We have to win again. We have to do it again. They did not rest. They work hard and they are not complacent. They want to do better than before.

Other swimmers returning in the Talbots’ repeat bid are seniors Davis Gindelsperger (free sprint) and Michael Belch (fly) and a gifted sophomore group led by Zach Sutterlin (breast), Viltaliy Pikalo (free) and Dan Bratu ( free). Freshmen Chris Belch (fly) and Scott Watkins (free sprint) are hoping to make a splash early on.

The only diver is Pax Carslaw, whose older brother Koda placed third at the 2021 WPIAL Diving Championships but will miss his junior season after knee surgery.

Riverside, who fires the Roth brothers, and 2021 WPIAL finalist Northgate, are expected to be the Talbots’ top challengers at the WPIAL Championships in the first week of March.

“We kind of broke onto the scene in our first year in Double-A and won the championship,” Sheets said. “I think the target on our back makes us train a lot harder because we know people are going to shoot us.”

Sheets, who has swam about 6,000 meters a day during the summer, is moving from 200 IM to 200 freestyle this season. His specialty remains the 100 backstroke, but with his teammate Retsch, the reigning WPIAL 200 IM champion, Sheets is looking for team points in other events.

“I’m going to kind of leave it to him (the 200 IM),” Sheets said, “and we’ll try to expand the board a bit more.”

Meanwhile, Retsch, who placed fourth in the WPIAL 100 backstroke last season, might instead pivot towards the 100 butterfly this season to give the Talbots even more balance.

“Willpower is a bit of everything,” Zweygardt said. “I can move it around a bit. We’ll see how it goes.

On the girls’ side, the Talbots are in their last season in class 3A before joining the boys in class 2A based on the latest PIAA registration parameters.

Being in Class 3A significantly complicates the path to the WPIAL Championships for Girls in Hampton, which is one of the smaller schools in the classification.

“It’s a little difficult because the boys are Double-A and the girls are Triple-A, it’s sometimes disheartening for some girls every time the boys get all of these titles,” Belle Donato said. “We just have a few too many daughters. But as long as we can stay positive, yes we swim with bigger schools and faster teams your times are always your times. “

Donato, who specializes in backstroke, is joined by Danielle Sutterlin (breast, free sprint) as senior captains. Other ghosts include juniors Rita Khoury (fly) and Emma An (breast, free distance) and second year Carly Colonna (free).

The best newcomers are freshmen Maya Daugherty and Kevyn Fish.

The girls also bring back a trio of divers: seniors Annelise Craig (12th in the WPIAL last season) and Riley Howard and junior Kayla Berkebile (20th).

Hampton earned her only WPIAL swimming qualification last season, distance freestyler Catie Kress, but Zweygardt is encouraged by the early season training and team atmosphere.

“It’s a great group of girls who work so hard and cheer each other on,” Zweygardt said. “I’m really excited to see how they are doing this year. I think it’s going to be a really fun season with them.

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