Led by first year coach Christen Adels, Sewickley Academy girls making major strides

Sewickley Academy first-year girls basketball coach Christen Adels talks to her players during a timeout in a game against Winchester Thurston on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, at Sewickley Academy.
Sewickley Academy first-year girls basketball coach Christen Adels talks to her players during a timeout in a game against Winchester Thurston on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, at Sewickley Academy.
Photo by Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Nathan Smith
| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 9:09 p.m.

Six wins might not seem like a lot, but for the Sewickley Academy girls basketball team, it is the result of a season of hard work.

The Panthers defeated Winchester Thurston, 38-23, last week — the team's 12th win this season and sixth in a row. It continued the team's longest winning streak since the 2004-05 squad won five in a row.

“It's huge,” senior Mackenzie Pryor said. “We still have two or three weeks left in the season, and we are already in the playoffs. I don't think anyone expected us to do this well since we came back with pretty much the same team as last year. The coaches have done such a good job helping us improve.”

First-year Panthers coach Christen Adels and her staff have given the girls basketball program — which hasn't had a winning campaign since the 2009-10 season — a spark as Sewickley Academy is 12-4 overall and 7-2 in Section 1-A play.

“We were worried because you spend so many years building a relationship with a coach,” senior forward Katelyn Ripple said. “You don't know how well you will get along with them. But it is amazing how much she has helped us.”

Adels is no stranger to finding success with a Class A sports program. She coaches the boys and girls volleyball programs at Beaver County Christian, both of which are regular playoff contenders.

“A lot of these girls don't play basketball in the offseason,” Adels said. “Our point guard, Maddie Casale, plays in the offseason but everyone else is a multisport athlete. They go from soccer to basketball to softball or lacrosse.

“Basketball isn't their focus, but it is rewarding to see them develop over the three or fourth months I have them.”

The season hasn't been without its hiccups. The Panthers started the season 2-3, but during the team's third loss of the year — a 44-36 setback at Aliquippa — the girls realized the potential they had by battling back from a 15-point halftime deficit.

“I think the girls were shellshocked in that Aliquippa game by the pace and how physical they were playing,” Adels said. “But they woke up at halftime and outscored them in the third, but we still came up short. That game in December was the turning point of the season.”

Since the loss to the Quips, the team has won 10 of its 11 games, holding all teams in its wins to 27 or fewer points.

The new coaching staff has found success working with the team's defense. Due to having a group of players who provide height and length, the Panthers have been able to master the 1-3-1 defense.

The Panthers have the top points-against average in Class A at 25 per game and have allowed 40 or more points in only two games.

Even with its strong defense, Adels admitted the team still has a lot of things on which to work. She would like to see the team increase its 35.6-point scoring average by having her players start driving to the hoop.

“We have a couple players who are comfortable doing it,” Adels said. “We need four or five who can in case the defense isn't working in a game. We need players to have the confidence and ability to drive to the hoop and go up strong.”

With only a handful of games remaining, Sewickley Academy will begin looking toward the WPIAL playoffs. The Panthers haven't made the postseason since the 2011-12 season. For the seniors, getting to the playoffs won't be enough. They want a win.

“That would be huge,” Pryor said. “Getting into the second round hasn't been done here in a really long time. It would be important for us to leave a legacy and encourage the younger players to keep the success going after we leave.”

The Panthers return to the court Thursday, as they travel to Eden Christian for a 4:30 p.m. tip.

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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