Sunday, December 10, 2023 | 11:01 AM
There’s only one direction the Sewickley Academy boys basketball team wants to go in 2023-24.
That is up.
After finishing 3-18 last year, first-year coach Jim Dudas said the Panthers have been adjusting well while learning a new system.
“I am optimistic we will show significant improvement on both sides of the ball,” Dudas said. “We are a young team that is returning all but one player from last year. We were not a prolific scoring team last year, and it may take some time initially for all to learn a new system with a new coaching staff, but the group is progressing well.
“The passing of coach Win Palmer has impacted both players and coaches. This will be the first time in 23 years that the team will be without him on the bench. This will be a very challenging period. Nevertheless, we are looking to a new season.”
Palmer, athletic director at Sewickley Academy for 22 years, was one of the most successful and highly decorated boys basketball and golf coaches in WPIAL history.
Palmer, who died Aug. 31, was a legendary high school administrator, coach, teacher, father and husband and, as Dudas alluded, is sorely missed.
The Panthers’ first-year coach has a youthful group of athletes to build a possible playoff-contending team from the ground up in Class 2A.
Nolan Donnelly, a 6-foot-4 junior guard/forward, and sophomores Caiden Battles, a 5-6 point guard, Lucas Grimsley, a 6-3 guard, and Amare Spencer, a 6-2 forward, are returning starters.
Donnelly was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year, averaging double figures in both categories.
Donnelly and Grimsley were named to the all-tournament team at the Carlynton tip-off tournament Dec. 1-2.
Seniors Alex Wang and Jordan Smith are expected to provide valuable minutes in the backcourt, while juniors Caleb McAdams and Kurt Armutat will be called upon to provide energy and defense.
Two freshmen, True Robinson and Garang Garang, will see significant minutes and should provide both rebounding and scoring punch.
Donnelly, Smith and Spencer also are integral members of the Panthers baseball program. Smith won the team award for outstanding player of the year last spring and received the team’s most improved player award in 2022.
Sewickley has been one of the leading boys basketball programs in the WPIAL. The Panthers captured section titles in 1999, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2018 and were WPIAL champions in 2004, 2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018.
Sewickley has been a PIAA finalist four times since 1997 and has won three state crowns.
Girls team starts strong
Sewickley Academy’s Libby Eannarino let the other section teams know she will be a tough player to contain in 2023-24.
Eannarino started her senior season on the girls basketball team with a 26-point performance to lead the Panthers to a 48-11 win against East Allegheny.
Eannarino then scored 21 points as Sewickley drove past Carlynton, 42-11, in the championship game of the Cougars’ tip-off tournament.
Thanks to her 47 total points, which included five triples against EA, Eannarino was voted MVP of the season-opening two-day event.
“I think we’ve had a strong start to the season,” Eannarino said. “It’s great to be back playing basketball again with the team, and we’re super excited to start off the season with a couple of wins and a title.
“We want to build on our performance at the tournament and keep the momentum going into our next couple of games. We have a lot more that we’re aiming to achieve this season, so even though we’re thrilled to have taken home the trophy, we’re only looking forward from here.”
Eannarino, a three-sport standout, was joined on the all-tournament team by her younger sister, Emma, a freshman guard.
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