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New-look Sewickley Academy girls team looks to finish strong

| Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, 1:12 p.m.

The Sewickley Academy girls basketball team doesn't feel like the team it was a few weeks ago.

Through the Panthers first 10 games, the team maintained a 4-6 overall record, 1-1 in Section 1-A. At the start of the week, the team was fifth in the section and had lost its best player (senior point guard Maddy Casale) for the year with an injury. Additionally, the Panthers have a new coach.

Coach Mariam Sy, an assistant the past four seasons, took over for Kathi Stoddard earlier this month.

“We have a young team. We only had two seniors, and Maddy being gone now, we only have one senior,” Sy said. “They're trying; we just have to build their confidence. Work more, work on their skills more and know the game. They just came from eighth grade, and this is a whole new level.”

If taking over the program midseason wasn't a big enough challenge already for Sy, Casale tore her ACL in the third quarter of the Jan. 8 contest against Avonworth. What she described at the time as calf pain was revealed to be a season-ending injury after an MRI.

“We all were shocked,” Sy said. “It's tough for all of us, but it's life.”

But even when Casale was healthy, the team had started to slide. The team has not won a game in 2016, losing its past five contests. Before their current losing streak, the Panthers' longest streak was two games.

Sy chalks the current skid up to the team's inexperience and playing good teams. The last two teams Sewickley Academy faced were Imani Christian, which features freshman phenom Cali Konek (averaging 45 ppg) and Cornell, which is 11-4 and second in the section.

“Nothing is going on. We're just playing against teams that are more experienced than we are,” Sy said.

But all is not lost for the Panthers. Senior Mackenzie Lightcap, who can give the team an offense and morale boost, will return to the team this week.

Sy stressed that success will come from the team, not one player; the whole team needs to step up now, she said.

“Basketball is pretty much a team game. I don't believe in individual players,” Sy said. “It takes the whole team to win the game.”

Five of the Panthers' past seven games are against section opponents. While they sit at 1-4 and fifth in the section, making the playoffs for the third consecutive year is still a possibility.

Zach Brendza is a freelance writer.

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