Sewickley boys golf striving to continue 8-year championship dynasty

Sunday, August 29, 2021 | 11:01 AM

It was a remarkable achievement when the Sewickley Academy boys golf team had a graduating class win a WPIAL title all four years it was in high school.

Then the Panthers went and did it again: four more titles.

The Panthers have taken a remarkable eight consecutive WPIAL golf titles, establishing themselves as one of the district’s greatest sports dynasties.

But, not so true to his name, it’s not all about winning for coach Win Palmer.

“Success doesn’t always mean that you don’t have failure, because in golf there’s a lot of failure,” said Palmer, who is also the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Sewickley.

“We never talk about winning. We never focus on that or make a big deal of that. We just focus on getting better and having fun.”

Last season wasn’t all fun, though. While navigating covid-19 delays and restrictions, Sewickley surprisingly lost the section title, as Quaker Valley took the regular-season crown. But the Panthers came back at Cedarbrook Golf Club in mid-October, claiming the WPIAL Class 2A crown by 18 strokes.

“First time we didn’t win the section in a long time,” Palmer said. “But we just kept talking about how it’s OK. The regular season is to prepare for the playoffs. And our guys just really stepped up.”

Leading the way was then-senior Tim Fitzgerald, who also won the Class 2A individual championship and is now playing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Behind Fitzgerald was a promising young talent, Joey Mucci, who is now the team’s top player as a junior after shooting a 76 and finishing third at the WPIAL individual tournament and placing 10th at the PIAA finals.

“Joey has a tremendous swing, a great short game and has really worked hard on the game,” Palmer said. “He started for us as a freshman, so he was talented coming into the program.

“But the difference between then and now is his mental approach. He’s grown so much in terms of understanding the game. A bad hole would bother him as a freshman and even midway through last year, but now he just gets it. … It’s a calm maturity that he’s got.”

Joining Mucci are two main contributors from 2020: Will Dugan and Jack Gordon, who are multi-sport athletes at Sewickley.

“They’re seniors now and played really well in the playoffs and really came through,” Palmer said, adding they do not start “tournament sharp” the way Mucci does, because of their other obligations.

“Those guys always take a few weeks and then, all of a sudden, look out. They play really well. … These guys are competitive athletes.”

Junior Nick Straka made major strides in the offseason and looks to take bigger steps in the early stages of the season.

Palmer has helped establish a culture of excellence, one that has produced numerous collegiate players. That includes Jason Li and Ian Bangor, who recently competed at the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont Country Club.

With so much talent and success over the last decade, Palmer has made it a point to link his current players with his alumni.

“Our alumni stay in touch. They play golf with our guys during the summer. They’ll come out and watch our guys play and talk with our guys before and after a match,” Palmer said. “Our guys look up to our alumni.”

Sewickley has a conveniently located home course at Allegheny Country Club, which hosted the WPIAL finals in 2020 and saw three Panthers golfers finish in the top five.

Palmer clearly would like that consistency to keep rolling in 2021. But keeping the focus off of trophies and gold medals seems to keep his team even-keeled.

“Obviously, we’ve got a great track record, but our program has never been about winning,” he said. “Our program is about developing. Golf is a lifelong sport.

“But if you’re going to play it, you have to have a work ethic. I do believe that, out of that work ethic, that’s where our success comes from.”


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