Sewickley Academy golf team set for another excellent season

Sunday, September 4, 2022 | 11:01 AM

One of the standards of the Sewickley Academy boys golf program is its “commitment to excellence.”

With coach Win Palmer as the team architect, Sewickley won eight consecutive WPIAL championships from 2013-2020.

“Commitment to excellence speaks to the goals of a strong work ethic to best prepare both before and during the golf season,” Palmer said. “It speaks to the idea of being the best teammate you can be in assisting teammates on the range, putting green and golf course. It speaks to the goal of outstanding sportsmanship — be humble when you are successful, be helpful to other teams, especially to those teams who may not be blessed with the same resources that we possess.

“Finally, it speaks to the pursuit of excellence in that you are never satisfied with one good shot, one good round or by one good season. You always want to get better.”

Palmer, who also serves as athletic director and boys basketball coach at SA, is in his 17th year as varsity head coach of the golf team. He also was a varsity golf coach in Northern Virginia for 15 years.

“My philosophy is that my role is to build a connection with each player on the team so that he will trust me when I ask him to deviate from something he is accustomed to,” Palmer said. “During a practice, we will make adjustments. During a match, I will wait until after the round to suggest an adjustment.

“Course management and emotional health require constant attention during a golf match. If a player is struggling, I look for something positive that they have accomplished that day to refocus their thoughts. Golf is a difficult sport where your opponent is the golf course, not the other team. Sometimes, the golf course can get the better of you, so focus on what you can control which is usually the next shot.”

Palmer addressed his coaching style.

“I have a calm demeanor during a golf match,” he said. “When I first began coaching, regular-season losses were viewed as necessary for the development of the team. Now, too many folks worry about a won-lost record during the regular season. Losing should spur one to want to get better and prepare better.

“Experience is the best teacher of all, and I know this year’s team will get better by playing so many different golf courses which require different strategies and mental approaches. By reviewing our approach afterwards, the opportunities for learning and gaining confidence are huge.”

Through the years, Sewickley golf teams have captured 21 section titles and 11 WPIAL championships, advanced to the PIAA finals in six seasons (all since 2014) and won state titles in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

From 2013-2020, Sewickely went 137-18.

“We’ve had an incredible group of talented golfers, a number of whom have gone to play collegiate golf at top academic universities,” Palmer said. “Most of them have had the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament and a number of them have earned all-conference honors and even made All-American teams. Their commitment to excellence continues to inspire our current golfers.”

Which SA golf team in considered the best in school history?

“The three state championship teams certainly rank up there,” Palmer said. “We also had a team that finished second at states that had a number of talented golfers who have gone on to achieve (success) in college and played in the U.S. Amateur.”

Sewickley finished third in the WPIAL last season with a 9-5 record.

“We had great senior leadership last year in Will Dugan and Jack Gordon, so we made great strides as a program,” Palmer said. “We gained invaluable experience with three freshmen in the lineup. Through everyone’s efforts, we are back to compete for a WPIAL championship.

Quaker Valley and Derry are the favorites (in 2A) due to the many talented golfers they bring back from last year.”

SA seniors Joey Mucci, a four-year starter, and Nick Straka provide a formidable one-two punch in the Panthers’ lineup this season.

“Joey has had an amazing career, having started on a state championship team and earning individual honors,” Palmer said. “Nick started last year and has spent much time and energy to improve his game.

“They will be two outstanding leaders for us as we navigate a most challenging and fun nonsection competition.”

Mucci was a freshman on the 2019 squad, the last golf team at QV to claim a state championship. He joined seniors J.F. Aber and Zoe Luther and juniors Tim Fitzgerald and Navin Rana in the starting lineup that season.

The Panthers are talented this year with the likes of Leon Jiao, a senior, and sophomores Severin Harmon, Karan Kad and Nolan Donnelly to provide significant depth in the game-day lineup. Those four, along with Mucci and Straka, give the Panthers an outstanding chance to be in the thick of the WPIAL playoff picture.

“Leon is another senior that we expect good things from,” Palmer said. “Our three sophomores, Severin, Karan and Nolan, will also be major contributors to our team this year.”

Mucci, Straka and Harmon were WPIAL finalists in 2021.

Other SA golfers looking to make an impact this season include seniors Alexander McClain and Jordan Smith, juniors Logan Carlson, Lucas Ratkovich and James Terrell, as well as freshmen Niko Frazzini, Luke Palguta and Bill Pietragallo.

“Our players know how much I love competition because I believe you learn so much about yourself through competing,” Palmer said, “so they understand my drive for excellence. We never talk about winning as that is an end goal which can only be achieved by staying in the moment and focusing on the next shot. During all three of our state championship victories, we were trailing by 10 strokes or more. Most of our golfers were aware of that, but through all of our mental work throughout the season, they believed in themselves and knew if they performed well down the stretch, the championship could be ours.

“As an example, this year’s golf team is not prepared to compete for a WPIAL championship would it take place tomorrow. However, our guys have a tremendous work ethic and commitment to each other so I know that in a month’s time, we will be more prepared to compete.”

Palmer is an avid golfer with a low handicap. His time competing on the links is reduced during the fall months.

“I love to golf,” he said. “My handicap has been as low as 2, but I’m not playing as much golf as it requires to keep it that low.”

Sewickley is a member of Section 9-2A along with Aquinas Academy, Bishop Canevin, Eden Christian, Quaker Valley and Winchester Thurston.


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