New-look Sewickley Academy boys basketball hopes for more WPIAL gold
Sewickley Academy’s boys basketball team wants to defend its WPIAL Class 2A championship this season.
The Panthers will have a different look, though, with the departure of three starters. Dave Groetsch graduated, and juniors Isaiah Smith (Lincoln Park) and Jett Roesing (First Love Christian) transferred.
Nevertheless, Sewickley Academy returns two first-team all-state players in senior forward Nate Ridgeway and junior guard Isiah Warfield.
“We’re focused on who we do have, and I am pretty excited about who we do have,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. “When you can start with those two guys, that’s a nice core.”
Seniors Donald Belt, Cole Karlik, Rees Blaylock and John DelVecchio hope to make an impact, too.
“John and Rees didn’t play last year, but they will really help us this year,” Palmer said. “Our senior class is really, really solid. They are five of our top eight players.”
Sophomores George Zheng and Max Belt will see time in the rotation as well.
“They are good players. We have a solid eight. We are trying to figure out who our next two guys are as well. The rest of the guys have to use our scrimmages and early season games before our section schedule begins to prove themselves,” Palmer said. “I love the attitude of these guys. I think there is a real positive feel. There is a drive in this team because we have some doubters out there who think we aren’t going to be as strong. I think that provides some internal motivation to work hard and be a cohesive group together.”
Warfield and Ridgeway want to help with that process.
“We just want to go out and play hard and show everyone all it takes is playing together as a team and playing hard on the defensive end,” Warfield said. “We want to lead by example and go hard at practice. As a junior, I have more of a leadership role this year. I am just trying to help the guys out. Everyone has been working really hard these past couple of practices. It’s really exciting: Everyone wants to work hard and get better for the season.”
The Panthers want to establish a strong identity once again. They had one of the WPIAL’s top defenses last year at 48.8 points allowed per game.
“We have to work on our cohesiveness on defense. That’s what ultimately what wins you championships,” Palmer said. “If you’re cohesive on defense, you can be really tough to play against. Two years ago when we won a state championship, I thought we were an incredible defensive team. At times last year, I thought we were as well. It’ll be a fun challenge this year.”
Sewickley Academy’s offense has been productive as well. The Panthers hope it remains that way.
“We share the ball well. This is a team that can play fast, which is fun. The kids really like that,” Palmer said. “We play that way at all levels. I think we have some very good shooters on the team.”
Sewickley Academy faces a challenge right from the start of the season when it battles North Catholic and Butler at the Peters Township tournament.
“I really like the fact we’re getting tested early,” Palmer said.
Last year, the Panthers shared a section title with OLSH and beat the Chargers in the WPIAL title game. However, OLSH ended Sewickley Academy’s season at 24-5 with a 70-68 win in a PIAA semifinal.
“We had a meeting, and we talked about high expectations. We’re not satisfied. We’re going to work hard and try to get back to where we were last year,” Warfield said. “We want to have fun this year. Everyone at practice is having fun and working hard. We’re really motivated. It’s always fun playing OLSH. It’s definitely going to be another battle this year. We’re looking forward to it.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.