By: Devon Moore
Friday, March 15, 2019 | 7:49 PM
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Last year, the Hampton wrestling team burst on the scene with a 20-win season. But this year’s “sophomore slump” wasn’t the result of less talent. Better yet, coach Chris Hart feels it built character.
The team lost six starters to injury, with a handful of others missing late-season action. Still, the team qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the second year in a row.
“What I did like is the kids didn’t give up,” he said. “Knowing we were outmatched on the scoreboard, our goal was to say ‘let’s go win the head-to-head competition,’ so if we wrestled seven out of 14 bouts, our goal was to win four out of those seven.”
Hart, who felt the squad was a top-five WPIAL team on paper, found it difficult to compete in a dual-meet schedule that was more difficult this year by design.
“If you wrestle better competition,” he said, “you become better competition.”
Still, Hampton sent five qualifiers to WPIALs and could have sent more. Junior Ty Kocak (145 pounds, 27-9) would have been gunning for a second consecutive state tournament berth had a knee injury not compromised his season just before the section tournament.
The injury bug bit sophomore Justin Hart (195, 31-5), but didn’t stop him from finishing fourth at WPIALs and one match out of the top eight at states.
Third-place state finalist Max Shaw (Thomas Jefferson) ousted him at Allegheny County Duals in a close match in January — after Hart beat him last year in the same tournament to capture the County Championship at 182.
After this year’s meet, a knee and ankle injury forced Hart to shut it down until the section tournament.
“I thought Justin wrestled a fantastic match at counties,” Hart said. “Unfortunately, that type of injury, he wasn’t able to see any kind of mat time at all. It’s all about being competitive, riding the bike and trying to stay in shape. He and I didn’t have much time to drill before sections.”
Junior Zach Wright (126, 30-10) had a breakout year, winning a section title and advancing in the WPIALs before losing to eventual state champions Darren Miller of Kiski Area in a 7-0 bout that, according to Hart, was much more competitive than the score indicated.
Next year, Wright’s goals will include a state qualifying placement at WPIALs.
“I’m really big on guys with goals,” Hart said. “Zach’s first goal was to win a section title, which he did. His second was to finish with 30 wins. He did … and have a 3.5 GPA. He’s right there in all three. That really makes me proud.”
Senior Josh Campbell (113, 16-9) didn’t end his career the way he wanted to, but that doesn’t erase the fact he exits as one of few Talbots to be a four-time WPIAL qualifier.
The senior sat out the latter half of the season with a partially torn labrum, erasing his chances of reaching his goal of wrestling 100 matches. It also forced him to wrestle up a weight class at 120 instead of his typical 113.
“Josh has so much talent,” said Hart. “I hope he continues that in the college level next year somewhere. Four-time WPIAL qualifier is something to be proud of. I know he fell short of his 100-match goal, but he’ll leave Hampton as a fantastic wrestler, that’s for sure.”
Senior Liam Helon (152, 18-17) won’t leave behind as decorated of a career, but he left all of it on the mat. After his last match at WPIALs, he came off heartbroken and embraced his coach. It was that kind of a last match for that kind of a wrestler.
“He worked his butt off,” Hart said. “He got better and stronger and had a great year, finishing on the plus side of wins. He put in a lot of work this offseason, and it showed. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
So does sophomore Corey Scherer (170, 18-17), who had to leave the consolation round because of a partially dislocated elbow. He was down 4-3 to Canon-McMillan’s Evan Miller at the time. He also wrestled a weight class up at 182.
“He had the chance to make some noise in the consolation bracket,” said Hart. “He was one of the most improved wrestlers and had a great year.”