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Team without Destiny, Gateway girls have found their way

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 10:46 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Gateway guard Jada Epps brings the ball upcourt as Franklin Regional forward Baylee Buleca defends during their January 29, 2013 contest in Monroeville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional forward Baylee Buleca looks for a pass on the baseline as Gateway forward Maria Taylor defends during their January 29, 2013 contest in Monroeville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

For a team that lost its Destiny, Gateway has certainly found its way.

One of the best WPIAL girls basketball players in recent memory, Destiny Brown, graduated from Gateway last spring.

That left a gaping hole for the Gators to fill. But as the season hits its home stretch, Gateway is playing as if it hasn't missed a beat.

Led by a lineup with an abundance of height and talent, the Gators are 13-3 overall and in the race for the Section 2-AAAA title at 8-1 in section play.

“They carry a chip on their shoulders to prove to a lot of people that they're also good basketball players,” coach Cornelius Nesbit said. “They talk about it a lot, proving themselves and trying to get out from underneath Destiny's shadow.”

Whereas Brown accounted for roughly 40 percent of Gateway's offense when she was playing for the Gators, now the team has done a reversal and relies on what is a remarkably balanced scoring output.

Four of the team's five starters entered the week averaging between 8.3 and 12.6 points per game. A fifth, 5-foot-11 sophomore forward Morgan Hainsey, is at 6.3 points but is near the team lead with almost nine rebounds per contest.

“With our team this year, you never know who's going to have a big night,” Nesbit said. “We feel like we've got four starters capable of, on any given night, taking over a game for us with their scoring ability. That makes us very tough to scout and defend sometimes.”

Senior two-year starters Chelsea Richardson and Maria Taylor have led the way. Richardson, a 5-9 shooting guard, leads the Gators in scoring at 12.1 points per game. She can score from the perimeter, in driving to the basket and even while posting up.

Taylor, a 6-0 forward, came into the week averaging 9.6 points and nine rebounds.

“She drives our inside game,” Nesbit said.

Guard/forward Katey Wilson and point guard Jada Epps are juniors in the starting lineup. At 5-10, Wilson played through a knee injury last season but is considered Gateway's “shutdown” defender assigned to the opponent's top offensive threat. She can shoot the three and also is a presence down low, as evidenced by her eight rebounds per contest.

“It can be any given day or situation, it's up to us all to step up,” Richardson said. “If one girl is on, we feed her the ball and make sure the rest of us all take on a supporting role.

“That makes teams have to stay on their toes, not knowing who our go-to player is that day.”

Gateway also features sophomore point guard London Wade and seniors Veronica Kuster and Lauren Henderson as top options off the bench.

Helping to replace Brown heading into this season were two transfers — Epps from Oakland Catholic and Wade from Wilkinsburg. The duo has fit in well with what has remained a tight-knit group.

“Quite honestly, with or without Destiny, I've always had a lot of confidence in my team before her or after her,” Richardson said. “Of course, she made the program that much better, but in her absence I wasn't really worried. I just knew the young talent and coachability of all my girls, and I know we'd see progress out on the court. I have no doubt we'll just keep this going.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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