Gators the hunted as they seek third straight section crown
After two straight Section 2-AAAA championships — including a 12-0 section record last season — and two straight trips to the WPIAL playoffs, the Gateway varsity girls basketball team remains the hunted as it gears up for the 2012-13 season.
The Gators were 19-4 overall last season, and the campaign ended with a tough 55-53 loss to Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL first round at Baldwin.
Gateway head coach Cornelius Nesbit had to say goodbye to senior co-captains Destiny Brown, Anna Coutsoumbis and Amanda Estok, three players who helped turn the program around from a 2-18 overall record (0-12 in section) in the 2009-10 season.
But a mix of veteran players, varsity newcomers and others fresh into the program, Nesbit said, has the potential to lead the team to another section crown and a return to the WPIAL playoffs.
“We saw a lot of positive things in (Saturday's) scrimmage from people in new roles and from players new to the team,” Nesbit said. “We also saw some things we need to work on and correct in practice.”
Nesbit said he and the coaching staff hoped to get a good look at the team during Wednesday's scheduled scrimmage against Mt. Lebanon and West Mifflin.
Senior Chelsea Richardson, a 5-foot-9 guard led all returning players last season with 10.0 points per game, and she averaged 3.3 assists per contest.
“One of the biggest improvements we've seen in her is her ability to shoot the 3-pointer,” Nesbit said.
“It will be a new weapon she will be able to use. We've also worked on some post moves with her. With her size, we want to get her down in the low post and be able to show off her new moves.”
Fellow senior Maria Taylor, a 6-0 forward, formed a rebounding tandem inside last year with Coutsoumbis. Taylor averaged 5.3 rebounds and scored 6.3 points per game in 2011-12.
“Maria looks phenomenal,” Nesbit said.
“Sometimes, you can get caught in the shadow of another player, and she kind of was in Anna's shadow a little bit. Now, she gets a chance to be that highlighted player inside. Maria and Anna got to be good friends, and Maria learned a lot from Anna. We saw some good things in the scrimmage, from the way she was rebounding and the way she was finishing around the basket. She has a nice 15-foot jump shot we expect her to use.”
Junior 5-10 wing player Katey Wilson has recovered from knee issues which plagued her in recent seasons.
“She's ready to go full tilt, and there are no restrictions,” Nesbit said.
“We expect good things from her, especially with her being able to play a full season.”
Sophomore Morgan Hainsey, a 5-10 wing player, is hoping to follow up on a strong first varsity season, Nesbit said.
“Morgan has the ability to shoot the basketball and play with her back to the basket,” Nesbit said. “She's one of those versatile players who can do a number of things. We're going to be able to play her at several positions. Her ability to block shots, rebound and run the floor will really help us.”
Senior forward Roni Kuster will join Richardson, Taylor and Wilson as team co-captains. Kuster saw varsity action in a limited role last year and mostly was a junior varsity player.
Nesbit said the additions of junior Jada Epps, a 5-7 point guard, and sophomore London Wade, a 5-5 point guard, will help the team.
Epps and Wade attended Oakland Catholic and Wilkinsburg high schools, respectively, last year.
“They both will help with pressuring people in our man-to-man defense,” Nesbit said. “Both are really good defenders. They will give us a chance to run a lot of stuff and get Chelsea open and not have her always be our primary ball handler.”
Nesbit said sophomore Heavan Carter, who played on the JV team and dressed for varsity games last year, should have an increased role this season.
“She's a high-energy kid that has a good shot,” Nesbit said.
Nesbit said he knows the section will be a challenge, with senior veterans Delrika Jones-Carey and Desiree Garland leading Woodland Hills, junior Krista Pietropola and others pacing Plum, and Fox Chapel junior Erin Mathias leading Fox Chapel.
Mathias, a 6-3 center and a Duke recruit, is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. The Foxes had four starters out with injuries in 2011-12, and the team struggled to a 2-10 record in section play and a 3-19 mark overall.
“The section is really going to be competitive from top to bottom,” Nesbit said. “Taking care of home court will be super important. ”
Gateway opens with a nonsection home game against Penn-Trafford on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
The Gators then begin Section 2 play on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. against Penn Hills at the Furrie Sports Complex.
The game with the Indians is the first of a varsity doubleheader.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.