Inexperience, early road games to present challenge to Sewickley Academy boys basketball

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Sunday, December 12, 2021 | 9:21 PM


Sewickley Academy’s road gear is firmly in place.

The SA boys basketball team is not slated to play its first home game until Jan. 7 in a section test with Springdale.

It’s the exact opposite of last year when SA did not compete in an away game until mid-January.

Of course, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a three-week shutdown for high school athletics last December because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another difference for the Panthers is the lack of experience on the 2021-22 team, compared to the senior-laden group of 2020-21.

“We return no starters from last year as we had eight seniors who were heavy contributors to our team,” SA coach Win Palmer said. “They helped us turn our season around and captured two playoff victories. Thus, inexperience is our biggest challenge as none of our returning players played a meaningful minute in any of our three playoff games.”

The Panthers, who landed the No. 10 seed for last year’s postseason, relied on a strong group of upperclassmen in 2020-21, led by veteran guards Max Belt and George Zheng.

The senior class this season is represented by Sean Donohue and Saverio Mignella in the backcourt with Jack Wyche and Josh Chico in the frontcourt.

Donhue and Mignella primarily play the shooting guard position. Wyche is a power forward, Chico a small forward.

“Our four seniors have been leading by example during our practices,” Palmer said. “Each step of the journey is a new one for our team, so patience by our players, coaches and community is critical to allow this team the time and the experiences necessary to develop cohesiveness.

“Fortunately, our first section game is not until January, so our December games will be helpful to figure out a playing rotation, style, communications, culture and an overall fun experience.”

The 6-foot Donohue is a two-sport standout at Sewickley Academy. He also plays soccer (center back position) and has been a two-year starter in both sports. He has a 3.97 GPA, is president of the Wall Street and Sports Media clubs at SA and currently is weighing his college options.

“We are really excited for this season,” Donohue said, “and although others’ expectations are not high, we plan on proving them wrong. We don’t necessarily have someone who can consistently score 30 points a game, but we do have a lot of heart and a strong team that works as a unit.

“We want to be competitive, and we know we can be.”

Three other athletes expected to help out this winter are junior Colin Helbling, sophomore Alex Wang and freshman Nolan Donnelly.

“Colin, Alex and Nolan have demonstrated that they will make major contributions to our team,” Palmer said.

Other top freshmen include Kurt Armutat, Quinton Gibbs-Green, Gan Qian Hou, Henry Latte, Calem McAdams and Jiakui Xu.

“As of right now, we think of ourselves as a starting six, consisting of myself, Josh Chico, Jack Wyche, Nolan D, Colin Helbling and Alex Wang,” Donahue said. “Colin and Nolan are going to be amazing additions to the team for both height and skill.”

Rounding out this year’s squad are junior Haonan Wang plus sophomores Jordan Smith and Michael Woo.

The Panthers’ opening-month schedule included games at Cornell (Dec. 14) and Greensburg Central Catholic (Dec. 17) before tackling Monessen (Dec. 28) and Washington (Dec. 29) in the Monessen holiday tournament.

Sewickley opens the new year Jan. 4 with its section opener at Riverview.

SA competes in Section 1-2A featuring Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which won WPIAL and PIAA titles last season en route to a 24-0 record.

The Panthers are aiming to improve on last year’s 10-8 mark and fourth-place showing in the section.

Sewickley won its final two regular-season games a year ago and rolled past Northgate, 55-15, and Carlynton, 49-34, in the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs before losing a 48-41 decision to GCC in the quarterfinal round.

Palmer, who is assisted by Almamy Thiero and A.J. Nagel, has coached at SA for 21 years and entered this season with an overall record 704-317.

The Panthers have reeled in 10 section championships in school history with the most recent in 2018. SA also has captured five WPIAL titles, including back-to-back crowns in 2017-18. They have been PIAA finalists four times, winning state championships in 1997, 2010 and 2017.

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