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Sewickley Academy girls working toward postseason berth

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The members of the 2013-14 Sewickley Academy girls basketball team have never participated in a WPIAL playoff game, but that may change this season.

The Panthers (7-4) posted a 46-13 victory over Western Beaver last Saturday to improve to 3-2 in Section 1-A, which was good for a third-place tie with Cornell. The top four teams in the section will qualify for the postseason.

“The playoffs have been our No. 1 goal since the season opened,” said first-year head coach Christen Adels.

Early season victories over the likes of Union and Rochester as well as a strong second-half performance in a December loss to section rival Aliquippa have served to bolster the Panthers' confidence in recent weeks.

“In the Aliquippa game, we were down at halftime and came back strong,” Adels said. “I think that was a turning point for us.

“It showed the girls that they can play at a higher level and that the playoffs are definitely a reachable goal.”

Adding to the degree of difficulty for the Panthers early on was a schedule that saw them play their first 10 games on the road.

Saturday's victory over Western Beaver was the first of six straight home games for Sewickley Academy. Five of those six games are Section 1-A contests.

The Panthers entered play this week trailing Quigley Catholic and Aliquippa in the section standings.

Sewickley Academy dropped a 31-20 decision to Quigley on Jan. 9, but much like the second half of the Aliquippa game, Adels was encouraged by the 11-point loss.

“It was a really great game,” Adels said. “They're a good team, well-coached and very aggressive.”

In the two meetings last season, Quigley bested the Panthers by 29 points in one game and 45 in the other.

Forward Katelyn Ripple — one of just three seniors on the roster — has taken on a leadership role.

“She's really started to become a vocal leader,” Adels said of Ripple, who was a defender on the Sewickley Academy soccer team. “She's learning how to step up and talk.”

Ripple patrols the middle for the Panthers' aggressive, 1-3-1 defensive alignment, which is designed to clog passing lanes and force the opposition into bad shots.

“We've really picked up the intensity on defense,” Adels said. “The girls are communicating and working well together as a team.”

One of the hallmarks of Adels' 1-3-1 alignment is to front both the high and low post to make it harder for opposing guards to make entry passes.

“We're not a big scoring team, so for us, it has to start with defense,” Adels said. “We have to anticipate where the pass is going, get a hand in the passing lane and maybe pick off a pass here and there.

“We have to disrupt the offense and force them to take a shot they're not used to taking.”

The Panthers face Union at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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