With new starting lineup, Sewickley Academy girls look to return to WPIAL semifinals

Saturday, December 4, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Sewickley Academy girls basketball advanced to the WPIAL semifinal round the past two seasons.

Although the Panthers may be hard-pressed to replace five senior starters from a year ago, they do have a talented group of athletes looking to make some noise this season.

This year’s team is built around Desirae Nance, a 5-foot-8 senior forward, and Rinnie Jardini, a 5-5 junior guard.

“Those two will lead a young team that looks to fill the void from the five starters who graduated,” SA coach Mark Gaither said. “Des started every game as a sophomore, then made the sacrifice last year to let five seniors start as each day was a bonus with a covid year.

“Rinnie has started multiple games over the past two seasons and will be counted on to pick up much of the load.”

Nance and Maddie Martin, a 5-6 forward, are the only seniors on the team. Jardini is one of five juniors on the squad.

Nance averaged close to 10 ppg last season.

“Des has had many big scoring and rebounding games over the years,” Gaither said. “Rinnie is a crafty point guard with tons of experience from the AAU world and has been a key part of the team since her freshman year.”

Two juniors expected to complement the Panthers’ frontcourt play are Olivia Jackson, a 5-7 forward, and Maddie Miller, a 5-9 forward.

“Olivia has worked hard in the offseason and will provide a strong low post presence for us,” Gaither said. “Maddie brings some nice added depth inside.”

Miller manned the goalkeeper position for the SA girls soccer team in the fall.

“She had a strong season and looks to transition onto the hardwood,” Gaither said.

Virginia Gaither, a 5-5 sophomore guard and the coach’s daughter, will be a newcomer to the SA lineup this year. She played in the WPIAL Class 6A championship game as a freshman at Upper St. Clair last season.

“Virginia brings a shooting threat to the team,” coach Gaither said.

Sewickley finished 13-6 overall last season after posting an 8-2 record in Section 1-2A. Neshannock and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart tied for first with 10-2 marks.

The five SA starters who graduated in the spring consisted of guards J.J. Jardini, Hailey Drutarosky and Mia DelVecchio and forwards Kamryn Lightcap and Bre Warner.

“We had an opportunity to win a share of the section title last year as we split with both Neshannock and OLSH,” said Gaither, SA’s third-year coach. “Covid canceled our final two games versus New Brighton and Shenango, both of whom we had beaten early in the season.”

The SA girls clinched a playoff berth a year ago by winning four of their last five regular-season games.

The Panthers defeated Seton LaSalle, 53-30, and Greensburg Central Catholic, 38-21, in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing a 47-26 decision to section rival Neshannock in the semifinals. Neshannock went on to capture the WPIAL championship and finish as a PIAA runner-up.

Sewickley is well stocked with forwards this season. Nance, Jackson, Miller and Martin will be joined in the frontcourt by some combination of the following: Laila Wade, a 5-7 junior, Lia Frazzini, a 5-8 sophomore and Lauren Retzlaff, a 5-8 freshman.

Two other backcourt players are Jaeden Dorsett, a 5-5 junior, and Layla Lombardo, a 5-4 sophomore.

SA is a member of Section 1-2A again this season along with Aliquippa, Neshannock, New Brighton, OLSH, Shenango and South Side.

Gaither is assisted by Tyler Warford, Jocelyn Warfield, Mark Winiecki and Jill Capozzi.


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