Gateway girls basketball team turns to last year's good luck charm
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The Gateway girls basketball team needed to start monkeying around before the Gators could realize just how dangerous they might be.
Throughout last year's run to the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals, Gateway carried around a stuffed animal for good luck. Coach Cornelius Nesbit's daughter eventually took it with her to North Carolina.
But with a Christmas visit to his daughter's house approaching and Gateway having lost three of four games, Nesbit knew what he had to do.
“When you start losing, you start thinking, what's different last year to this year other than the player changes,” Nesbit said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, the monkey.' ”
Gateway, of course, won its next two games: by 14 over East Stroudsburg South and by seven over Christmas tournament host Altoona.
“The monkey's not going anywhere,” Nesbit deadpanned. “He's going to have to deal with the cold weather.”
While players and coaches talk about the rally monkey as if he's a dribbling, running and jumping member of the team — he has a name, Ralph — there have been a few more tangible reasons for Gateway's recent success.
For one, Jada Epps has blossomed into an elite scorer. A year after averaging 8.3 points in a support role last season, Epps has averaged 13.3 points, 3.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 3.4 steals.
Epps was a facilitator last season, but the 5-foot-8 guard has been much more assertive. A perfect example was when she finished with 18 points, six assists and four steals against Altoona.
“I'm shooting more this year,” Epps said. “Last year, I didn't really shoot at all. I just helped other people get open.”
One of those was teammate Morgan Hainsey, who has developed into Gateway's go-to player underneath while also improving her mid-range jumper. Hainsey has contributed 11.4 points, eight rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. She's shooting 50 percent (37 for 74) from the field.
“Her jump shot is pure, so now she's able to be 15 or 16 feet away from the hoop, making big kids come out and have to play her,” Nesbit said. “She can get to the basket. She's become a very big asset for us.”
Epps and Hainsey have helped address the loss of Katey Wilson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during one of Gateway's scrimmages. Wilson was the Gators' (4-3, 1-2) top returning scorer at 9.3 points per game.
But junior London Wade has stepped up by averaging 6.3 points, including double-digit outings during both games of the Altoona Tournament.
Gateway, which has won the past three Section 2-AAAA titles, also has benefited from the contributions of 5-10 junior Alexis Young (5.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and 5-11 sophomore Jasmine Copeland (6.3 rpg).
“We're finally starting to trust one another,” Epps said.
Why now? Hainsey insisted it was a matter of players learning their roles.
Not necessarily a monkey.
“We're getting used to those adjustments,” Hainsey said. “We're starting to be able to go out there and make plays happen no matter what position we end up in.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Grodz resigns as Charleroi Area coach
- Bordonaro boosts East girls to 79-72 victory in Cager Classic
- PIAA basketball playoff capsules
- Despite Bordonaro’s career-high 36, Burrell girls defeated in PIAA playoffs
- Kittanning senior Kunst shoots lights out at Cager Classic skills event
- Ford City, Kittanning making final appearances at Cager Classic
- Cager Classic notebook: Highlands, Mars players bury hatchet for the weekend
- Seton-La Salle girls basketball team peaks with 8-game playoff run