Sewickley Academy boys pleased with experienced lineup returning
Sewickley Academy saw a little of everything last season, and it produced a team with a lot of experience entering this season.
The Panthers bring back a trio of their top scorers from last year's WPIAL runner-up and PIAA semifinalist in Class A, and this year they have their sights set on a better finish despite moving up to Class 2A.
Senior guards Chris Groetsch (5-foot-11) and Justin Pryor (6-2) give the Panthers a 1-2 scoring punch in the backcourt, and 6-4 sophomore forward Nate Ridgeway showed the ability to finish inside as a freshman a year ago. Another senior guard, 6-4 Declan Hickton, returns for the Panthers after missing much of last season with a knee injury.
“It's always nice to have three double-digit scorers returning. Chris was probably at 18 or 19 (per game), and Justin and Nate right behind him around 14 to 16,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. “We look at (Hickton) like another starter coming back, so that's four guys who have that experience.”
The experience they bring from a 26-4 season includes last year's WPIAL semifinal win over Jeannette, when the Panthers rallied from a 21-point deficit to win on Ridgeway's last-second shot. It also includes harsh lessons learned in a WPIAL final loss to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and a pair of losses to eventual state champ Kennedy Catholic and star Sagaba Konate, now a freshman playing for Bob Huggins at West Virginia.
“We played a lot of tough, crazy games,” Pryor said. “Some games we felt the highs, like in the semis, and then we hit the lowest low in the final. But it prepares us for this year and moving up a class.”
Adding to the Panthers rotation are junior guard Dave Groetsch and senior forward Teddy McClain, who played big roles off the bench in the team's long playoff run, according to Palmer.
“Expectations are pretty high. Last year, we had a good year, and I think we have a more talented team this year,” Pryor said. “This is probably the tallest team I've ever played with. We have guys who are 6-4, 6-5, but they're guards. They can still handle the ball and shoot.”
“We're still trying to figure out the starting lineup, and it might change based on matchups,” Palmer said. “We've had a lot of guys working out in the weight room and getting a lot stronger, and that's going to help because we're playing as good a schedule as we've ever had.”
That schedule, in addition to Section 3-AA games against Bishop Canevin, OLSH and Neshannock, features season-opening games against Thomas Jefferson and Baldwin, a trip to the North Allegheny holiday tournament and neutral-court games against Monessen, Central Catholic and Kennedy Catholic.
“I can speak for everybody when I say we're excited about this schedule,” Pryor said. “We still want to win every game. Losing (against difficult opponents) isn't OK, but we know in the long run, it is going to be OK if that helps prepare us for the playoffs.”