Switching Things Up: Three SA Spring Teams Change PIAA Classifications


Varsity Boys’ Tennis, 2019 Season. Source: sewickley.org

Erin Mahoney, Editor-in-Chief

Imagine if every sophomore and junior at Sewickley Academy lined up along the sideline of Wardrop Field, armed with lacrosse sticks. Now imagine that you and a few friends intended to face off against this massive swarm and score a goal on them. Sounds impossible, right?

This discouraging scenario is not a far cry from the situation faced by the SA boys’ lacrosse team just one year ago. At the same time, the boys’ tennis team was having difficulty finding worthy competitors, and SA’s total enrollment was pushing the limits of the baseball team’s level of competition in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA).

Each team’s PIAA classification was an ill fit, prompting some exciting changes at the beginning of this past spring season.

First, a note on terminology for all the non-athletes out there: the “classification” in which a particular team competes is determined by the total enrollment of the school. This classification system, with enrollment groupings ranging from the small “A” schools to the massive “AAAAAA” schools, ensures that teams compete against others their size.

Boys’ lacrosse moved from AAA to AA this season. Senior and four-year varsity player Josh Thomas explained that, back when many schools didn’t offer the sport, SA was “one of THE lacrosse schools in Western Pennsylvania just because we had it.”

But around fifteen years ago, according to Thomas, the bigger schools began to develop their lacrosse programs until they “got to the level of where we were at and then started to exceed us.”

In his freshman year, Thomas noticed that the team was beginning to lose to larger teams, a trend that grew until 20 SA boys faced a Pine Richland team of over 100 players last season.

“We’re kind of going into that game like, ‘We’re gonna play our hardest, obviously, we’re not going to give up,’” Thomas said, “but when you’re facing those kinds of odds… It was really hard to keep a positive mentality.”

Lacrosse coach and Middle School Latin teacher Trevor Adams agreed that these unbalanced games were beginning to take a toll on the team, prompting the coaching staff to discuss moving down to AA from AAA during Thomas’s sophomore year.

However, they had already signed a contract with PIAA to remain in AAA for two years, and they also had several especially talented seniors driving the team forward.

When those players graduated, Coach Adams said, “Because you don’t have those people pushing themselves to that level, you don’t have the same kind of drive within your program.”

Coach Adams knew it was time to move to AA, and the proof is in the pudding.

For example, last season, Moon beat SA 12-2.

Coach Adams said, “You could really see the shock from our freshman players in that kind of game.”

However, after the classification switch, SA clashed with Moon once again and came out on top, winning 7-6.

Thomas noticed that his team won against Moon because “we weren’t just going out and getting mercy-ruled like every single game. [The move to AA] really allowed a mentality change and an overall culture change in the team.”

While boys’ lacrosse lost in the first round of playoffs on their path to finding more appropriate competition, boys’ tennis experienced a similar defeat at the end of their first season after a switch from AA to AAA in search of more challenging opponents.

Junior Arjan Bedi, in his third year on the varsity team, said of the classification switch, “It was an executive decision because we had been so successful in AA, […] and after winning so many state championships and WPIAL championships in a row, they decided it was time.”

Coach Whitney Snyder, at the end of his 28th year of coaching, saw this classification switch as a boon for the players. He remarked, “Anytime you play harder competition, you push yourself more.”

Sophomore Navin Rana agreed. “One of the main goals of doing whatever sport in high school is to always get better,” he said. “Playing AAA with tougher competition, you’re definitely going to get so much better, and I think we saw that with our team throughout the entire year.”

In AA competition, junior Will Stevenson said, “We knew we would be able to make it to WPIALs and we would be one of the top seeds, so we had more time to just enjoy ourselves [in practices].”

However, with this move to AAA, Stevenson said the team knew that the season “was just going to be kind of a grind for the first couple of weeks.”

As sophomore Cole Rychel said, AAA play was “beneficial for us because we played the better competition and we got better ourselves, but detrimental to our record.”

Though some players are disappointed that the state championship is no longer “a goal that was within reach,” as Coach Snyder put it, the coach says he is proud of his players, and that “we’ve tried as hard as we’ve ever tried.”

Varsity baseball has also faced new challenges this season, with the number of students at SA forcing the team to move from A to AA because of PIAA regulations. Though the change wasn’t voluntary, Coach Andrew Petruska welcomed it.

Varsity Baseball, 2019 Season. Source: sewickley.org

“I felt confident in moving up to AA this year based on our pitching experience and leadership from top to bottom,” he said. “It’s always exciting to take on a new challenge.”

However, Coach Petruska added, the losses that accompanied this challenge have been “discouraging at times this season for our players.”

Senior Zach Rovee takes a long view of this frustration, remarking, “Even though I’m leaving, I feel it will benefit the team in the future because it will make the younger guys feel angry and passionate. If that happens, I think they can make a good run and make something happen.”

The SA team has also been able to observe the tight-knit cultures of the more advanced teams they played, which, according to Coach Petruska, showed his team that “all players have to buy into the system and work as a team to push one another to practice and play their best.”

Rovee also emphasized the team’s new appreciation for role of team culture and mental preparation in baseball.

“I feel it was a bit of a wake up call,” Rovee said. “The team was fun and more relaxed last year, which isn’t bad. But I feel the change made us all learn that we need to be passionate to win.”

Overall, Coach Petruska said, “It has been beneficial to play up in our competition and allow the players to prepare for their futures, to face different life challenges.”

As these three SA teams look back on their first season in a new classification, tennis player Will Stevenson offers up a summary that rings true for all of them: “For the first year, I think we did an incredible job, and I think next year we can do even better.”