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Sewickley Academy girls showing early-season improvement

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Academy's Grace Guerin passes the ball during practice Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, at the school.

First-year Sewickley Academy girls basketball coach Christen Adels walked away from Northgate Tournament impressed with her squad.

The Panthers used a stifling defense to pick up a pair of wins and extend their win streak to three after starting the season 2-3.

“The team has shown growth over the last four games,” Adels said. “They have shown so much progression on the defense and the 1-3-1. They have also gotten better running offense. It was interesting because the girls said they didn't run much of an offense last year.”

On the opening day of the tournament, Sewickley Academy defeated Ellis School, 36-9.

It was the second games against the Tigers this season for the Panthers as they fell in the first encounter, 29-26.

“The first time we played them we had 34 turnovers,” Adels said. “And we shot 20 percent. (In the second game) we cut our turnovers in half and the shooting percentage was much better. It showed out kids learned how to break a press.”

Sewickley Academy outscored Ellis School, 13-2, in the first quarter and never looked back. The Panthers were led by sophomore Maddy Casale's 14 points.

In game two Sewickely Academy downed Aquinas Academy, 42-27. The Panthers jumped out to a 20-9 halftime lead the Crusaders couldn't overcome. Casale led all scorers with 18 points while junior Kayla Guerin added 11.

“I just wasn't thinking much about scoring,” Casale said. “I just got some good passes and just played the game.”

The 36 points given up at the tournament was a continuation of the Panthers' success on defense. Sewickley Academy is giving up only 26.1 points per game — not only lowest in Class A but in the entire WPIAL.

It is an improvement by more than 12 points from last season's average.

“The first two weeks I think the team was a bit shellshocked,” Adels said. “It was kind of like ‘What is this stuff? Getting on the floor? I don't know about that.'

“But they have realized the importance of winning jump balls and getting turnovers. They see the value in getting the extra possessions and getting more opportunities to score.”

The coaching change during the offseason has brought a new outlook for the team. The new staff has worked to add more plays into the offense and Adels brought a new personality to the program.

“They are more serious,” Casale said. “We are practicing more. Last year we didn't practice much over breaks but this year we have had extra practices to help. We sometimes practice on Saturdays and watch game film to see what we are doing wrong.”

The new serious attitude has put the team in the upper half of Section 1-A's standings. The Panthers are 2-1 and trail only Aliquippa (3-0). Quigley Catholic is the only other team with two section wins.

If they can keep the intensity up through the rest of section play, the Panthers will be on the prowl for their first WPIAL postseason berth since the 2010-11 season.

“I think if we keep playing the way we are, we will make the playoffs,” Casale said. “We didn't make it last year but I think we can now. It would really help us get closer and stronger as a team.”

Sewickley Academy returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, as it hosts Freedom.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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