Seniors lay foundation for Sewickley Academy girls basketball program

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Sunday, March 21, 2021 | 10:01 AM


Over the past four years, the seniors of the Sewickley Academy girls basketball team have taken the program to a new level.

Since the 2017-2018 season, the Panthers have produced a record of 55-34, made three WPIAL semifinal appearances and three PIAA tournament appearances, including the quarterfinals two years ago. The Panthers would have made a fourth appearance this season if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t forced the PIAA to limit the state playoffs to district champions.

“Those senior basketball players, they achieved so much and did so much for our school, and they are a part of one of the best girls basketball teams that the school ever had,” Sewickley Academy coach Mark Gaither said. “It was an impressive four-year career that the school has never really seen.”

The senior class of JJ Jardini, Kamryn Lightcap, Mia DelVecchio and Bre Warner, along with Quigley Catholic transfer, Hailey Drutarosky — who came to Sewickley Academy this year after Quigley closed at the end of last year — made one final run at trying to bring the program its first WPIAL championship.

They came pretty close.

With the seniors and younger players such as Desirae Nance and Rinni Jardini, the Panthers went 13-6 and earned the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs. They averaged 41.9 points and allowed only 34.2.

But the Panthers ran into top-seeded and eventual WPIAL champion and Neshannock in the semifinals and lost, 47-26.

The Panthers split with the Lancers during the regular season, and about three weeks before their semifinal matchup, they took down the top-seeded team in a nail-biting 35-31 victory. But the Panthers didn’t have their best game March 9.

“It was just one of those days where things weren’t going our way,” Gaither said. “We can’t take anything away from the year we had. We just had an off game. We didn’t play very well, and it was just a tough way to go out. We didn’t handle their trapping well, and we didn’t shoot the ball very well so it just kind of spiraled. It was just one of those days.”

Along with their win over Neshannock, the Panthers earned big wins over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, two wins over Shenango and pushed WPIAL Class 4A runner-up Quaker Valley to the brink in a 34-30 loss Feb. 6.

A big part of that success was the seniors, and Gaither said they have set the foundation for the future of the program.

“It’s not just the last two years, making back-to-back trips to the semifinals, but it’s setting the example of coming to practice every day, working hard every day and sacrificing for the team,” Gaither said. “We have some girls that could’ve put up some pretty big numbers, but they were all team-first players and didn’t really care who got the credit. They were just coachable and hard workers.”

The Panthers will be young and a little inexperienced next season. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Panthers didn’t have a JV season, so this offseason will be crucial for Gaither’s younger players. But he is excited about the program’s future.

“Now they know what is expected every day, and our section is going to be a grind next year,” he said, “but we’re excited for the future and that’s because of the legacy these seniors have left behind and the tradition they’ve helped lay for Sewickley Academy girls basketball.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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