To claim a second consecutive WPIAL Class AA boys' soccer championship this season, Hampton was going to have to reload.
The Talbots did just that by topping Belle Vernon Area, 3-0, at Elizabeth Forward's Warrior Stadium this past Saturday. It was Hampton's 20th consecutive victory as it headed into the PIAA playoffs Tuesday where it had another championship to defend, using a lineup that has been revamped since last year's district and PIAA-title runs.
The Talbots (22-1) extended their winning streak to 21 Tuesday night with a 6-0 victory against District 9 champion Punxsutawney in the first round of the PIAA tournament.
"It's been an enjoyable run and the players have been positive the entire year," veteran Hampton coach Chuck Kelley said. "We have a brand new group of players [this season]. It's a testament to their hard work in the offseason and their commitment to one another to get here.
"They are committed to becoming better soccer players year-round. It isn't just a sport for a few months for a lot of our kids. If you only play two months out of the year, you're not going to be competitive. Our kids not only make a commitment to get better as individual players, there's a commitment as a team to get better."
Only three of 11 starters returned from the 2010 championship team: seniors Evan Wilson, a defender; as well as forwards Josh Gialanella, and Jonathan Mercier.
Junior midfielder Chris Delposen scored twice in the first half during the win against Belle Vernon while Stephen Mottola, a senior defender, scored the other off a corner kick taken by Mercier.
"You always want to have the lead," Kelley said. "Here in the playoffs, you want to get the momentum early. It made the game easier, but Belle Vernon is a very good team. A bounce one way or the other, it could have been a goal for them."
Belle Vernon (19-3) has lost three postseason games in the past two seasons, all of them to Hampton, which has outscored the Leopards, 13-1, in the three playoff contests. Belle Vernon had a 12-game winning streak broken during its most recent loss to Hampton.
Hampton outscored four WPIAL playoff opponents -- Indiana, Montour, Ringgold and Belle Vernon -- by a cumulative 15-3 count.
In addition to the aforementioned players, others who contributed heavily to the championship run include junior midfielders Jeremy Taylor, Zach Kocak and Simon Stasko, junior forward Justin Carter, senior defender Sam Davies, senior forward Jake Lichina, sophomore midfielder Austin Dilts, senior midfielders Bryan Margaria and Quay Sobotka, sophomore forward Stephen Margaria and senior goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
Kelley preferred not to compare championship teams, noting that earning a tournament's top prize is never easy regardless of a particular team's talent or experience.
In response to the question of whether it was more difficult to repeat as champions than the first time around, Kelley said, "I think it's hard anytime you do it ... early in the season we were finding ourselves out at that time.
"Naturally, we found out a lot about ourselves. The Ringgold game [a 2-1 semifinal overtime win] and the other playoff wins have tested us in different ways and it's definitely prepared us for where we're at right now."
Ringgold was 17-0-1 when Hampton faced the Rams on Nov. 1.
The Hampton starters continued a tradition that began last season with each sporting a Mohawk haircut at the start of the playoff run.
"It's something that started last year and it's just something that's carried over," Kelley said. "I don't think it's something their parents would let them have their hair cut like that for the entire year."
Going into the PIAA tournament, the Talbots had not lost since a 2-1 decision Sept. 8 at Mars.
"We're just looking for the next challenge and hopefully it won't be a short one," Kelley said.