Raider hoop coach Giannotta entering HOF
Eagle Staff Writer
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October 11, 2017
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Current Seneca Valley boys basketball coach Victor Giannotta, seen here talking to his team during a state playoff game at Altoona High School in 2009, was inducted into the Sewickley Academy Sports Hall of Fame last Friday as part of that school’s 1996-97 team that won the Class A state championship.

Victor Giannotta was still a young high school basketball coach during the 1996-97 season, but he and his Sewickley Academy boys team learned — and won — together.

The Panthers won the first state championship in program history that year. The entire team was inducted into the Sewickley Academy Sports Hall of Fame last Friday.

“I’m happy for the players,” said Giannotta, a resident of Seven Fields and current boys basketball coach at Seneca Valley. “It’s a well-deserved honor. In some respects, I think going in as part of a team is more gratifying than being inducted as an individual.”

When Giannotta arrived at Sewickley Academy in 1992, the basketball program was far from an established power.

“It was a fringe sport,” he said. “Lacrosse and soccer were the big sports. We had to change the attitude and culture, let the kids know that participating in basketball there would be a good experience.”

Sewickley made its first-ever appearance in the state playoffs at the end of the 1995-96 campaign, losing to Juniata Valley in the second round.

“We were building every year and I believed, entering the 96-97 season, that we had a chance to be really good. We weren’t outstanding at any position, but had an extremely solid starting five. And we had three or four strong players coming off the bench.”

The Panthers defeated Aliquippa, the eventual PIAA Class AA champion, during the regular season. They reached the WPIAL title game, but fell to Clairton.

“Losing in the championship game motivated the kids,” said Giannotta.

Sewickley’s state-playoff run began with a 53-51 win over District 5’s Southern Fulton; then a rematch with Juniata Valley, which the Panthers won 57-43.

A 15-point victory over Bishop Guilfoyle sent the team to a semifinal showdown against Kennedy Christian.

“That was a nail-biter we played at Butler High School,” said Giannotta. “One of our guys hit a free throw with eight-tenths of a second left in the game and we won (51-50).”

Three days later, the Panthers defeated Schuylkill Haven, 52-45, in the championship game in Hershey and Sewickley finished the season with a 24-8 record.