Despite roster turnover, Sewickley Academy girls soccer chasing another playoff berth

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Sunday, September 19, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Sewickley Academy is a fixture in the WPIAL girls soccer playoffs.

The Panthers have advanced to the postseason 12 of the past 13 years, including 11 consecutive times from 2007-17.

During that span, the SA girls captured four section championships, with the latest coming in 2017.

The Panthers qualified for last year’s postseason with a 9-2-1 record after not losing a game in September

Sewickley Academy featured a large group of seniors in 2020, a combination of goal scorers, playmakers, outstanding defenders and a solid goalkeeper.

“After graduating eight starters, we are working hard to rebuild and have a lot of young talent that is mixing well with the returning leaders,” coach Jessica Peluso said. “We plan to compete for a playoff spot again this season.”

Peluso, a graduate of Bucknell and Pitt, is the dean of students at Sewickley Academy. She also is a global studies teacher, offering instruction in history and the social sciences.

“This is my 18th year as the head coach at SA,” Peluso said, “and my focus is always on getting the girls to invest in the strength of the team. We like to play the ball on the ground, spread out our attack and play strong team defense all over the field.”

Sewickley Academy, which has won 11 section titles in program history, competes in Section 4-A along with Aquinas Academy, Bishop Canevin, Carlynton, Eden Christian, Ellis School and Winchester Thurston.

Bishop Canevin, the defending section champion, Sewickley Academy, Ellis School and Eden Christian qualified for last year’s playoffs.

This year’s team is brimming with juniors and freshmen. The three seniors in the program are Aizah Kamal, Brooke Menzock and Ella Sanfilippo.

Menzock and Kamal are co-captains.

“Our duties as captains are to lead the team and create a fun and exciting environment that enables us to do our best in every practice and game,” Menzock said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure everyone on the team feels included, heard, and is able to learn free of judgement.”

Kamal agreed.

“As a captain, one of my most important goals is to create a space for fellow students to have fun and feel safe,” Kamal said. “I think our team has so much potential, and as captains, it’s our responsibility to help us learn as much as we can from each other and, of course, from other teams.

“So far, we’ve had some pretty tough opponents, and we have to take each game (results) and practice with a stride.”

Menzock also plays softball in the spring and participates in the school musical every winter. She is president of the Girl Up club, co-VP of the drama club, and is exploring the possibility of attending a small liberal arts college after graduation.

Kamal is president of the Student Diversity Leadership Council, a club that works to foster and create platforms that stimulate conversation among peers. She also serves as the school’s mock trial president and has written articles for the school newspaper.

Kamal would like to attend a college where she can explore her interest in English, law and math.

Both girls expressed rosier results for this year’s squad, which started 1-3 overall and 1-2 in Section 4-A.

“My expectation is to make it to playoffs,” Menzock said, “but I also want us to focus on growing as a team since we have new additions who are not experienced in the game of soccer.

“I think we have potential with the athleticism on our team, and we have a few club players that work well with teammates new to the game. Our greatest strengths are our teamwork and our passing.”

Kamal believes the infusion of the young athletes into the program will help lead to a successful season.

“We hope to use the raw talent of our many new players,” she said, “and do as well as we can in our section. We hope to maintain the stellar record that we had last year.”

Eight juniors, five sophomores and eight freshmen are included on the 2021 roster, as Peluso welcomed 24 players to the program at the onset of the season.

“Our goals include wanting to use every game and practice to become a better and more successful team,” Peluso said.

Sewickley Academy’s early-season lineup includes sophomore Cait Donohue, junior Jayne Miner and freshman Quincy Sirko at forward; Menzock, freshman Katherine Varghese, and juniors Sally Moravitz, Elena Mohan and Kaitlyn Hayden at midfield; and on defense, Kamal, juniors Rinnie Jardini and Isabella Capito, plus sophomore Virginia Gaither.

Maddie Miller, a junior, is the starting goalkeeper.

All varsity players have seen playing time this season, and that includes the likes of sophomores Layla Lombardo, Claudia Kronk and Kendall Sykes, as well as freshmen Amaya Snyder, Jade Rychel, Avni Kathju, Celia Helbling and Lauren Retzlaf.

Sanfilippo, junior Mary Grace Gordon and freshman Nora Faraci are out for the season with injuries.

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