With a reloaded roster, Sewickley Academy preparing for another championship run

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Sunday, September 20, 2020 | 11:01 AM


For the Sewickley Academy boys golf team, it’s never rebuild. It’s always reload.

A year after winning PIAA and WPIAL Class AA team championships, 2020 is no different.

Although the Panthers graduated WPIAL Class AA individual champion J.F. Aber, coach Win Palmer returns three of the five players who competed in the PIAA team tournament last year. Palmer will lean on the experience of seniors Tim Fitzgerald and Navin Rana this season.

“We had a magical season last year, and it’s always a challenge for the next year, but the really good news is with Tim and Navin back, who have been voted captains and are great leaders, we have solid play and leadership at the top,” Palmer said.

As a junior last season, Fitzgerald finished four strokes behind Aber at the WPIAL Class AA individual championship. He also finished two strokes behind Aber at the 2019 PIAA team championship.

Over the summer, Fitzgerald captured the Pittsburgh Mid-Summer Junior Open and came in third at the Toftrees Junior Open. The senior also shot a 2-under-par 68 to earn medalist honors in the Sewickley Invitational at Allegheny Country Club when the Panthers beat Fox Chapel and Franklin Regional.

Rana placed eighth at the WPIAL individual tournament last season with a 7-over 77 at Allegheny Country Club and also has played well in the early going this season.

“It gives me great hope to have those two young men at the top of our lineup,” Palmer said.

It doesn’t stop there. Junior Will Duggan and sophomore Joey Mucci also return to the starting lineup. As a freshman last season, Mucci placed 14th at the WPIAL individual tournament.

Duggan didn’t participate in the PIAA team tournament and just missed a top-18 finish at the WPIAL individual tournament. As the Panthers play through their 2020 season, Palmer is expecting Duggan and Mucci to play different roles.

“Last year, they were just proud to be a part of the starters,” Palmer said. “This year, I am asking more of them. I am asking them to step up and push Tim and Navin. I want them to see if they can beat Tim or Navin in a round. That competition is healthy.”

Palmer also expects players such as senior Thomas Sykes and junior Jack Gordon to play roles at the back end of the starting lineup. He wants them to get to a place where they can provide the top four players with security.

The Panthers won their seventh consecutive WPIAL team title last year by 22 strokes over North Catholic. They also went on to win their second PIAA title in three years by a stroke over Scranton Prep. This season, Palmer said his team’s success will come down to the mental challenge.

“The challenge is losing focus on what the real focus is,” Palmer said. “When you return as much as we do this year, it can turn really quickly. You can get frustrated by a bad loss or a bad round. A defeat can throw you off because you think you’re supposed to be perfect.

“We just have to accept that bumps in the road will make us better for later in the season, and that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve always played our best golf in October, and that’s our goal again this year.”

The Panthers got off to a 6-2 start this season. Their only losses came against Central Catholic (194-207) and Fox Chapel (183-189).

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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