Gators lacrosse players set to begin journey in WPIAL
Gateway started a boys lacrosse team in 2011.
The fledgling program has made great strides in two seasons of exhibition competition. In 2012, a junior varsity club was added.
Now, the Gators are ready to take the next step.
Gateway has joined the WPIAL, and with that move comes the chance to compete for the playoffs and a championship.
“We understood where we stood as a program the last two years. We were more concerned about developing players, and winning games didn't mean as much,” coach John Washington said. “We've taken our lumps, but now we have the opportunity to accomplish something.”
Washington's club is one of four new WPIAL teams. Mars, Moon and Aquinas Academy are the others.
Gateway is among 18 schools at the Division II level. The top WPIAL programs are in Division I.
The Gators are in Division II's Section 1, joining defending division champ Greensburg Central Catholic, Allderdice, Indiana, Latrobe and Norwin.
“We have a lot of experience now, so we have high expectations as far as being competitive at the Division II level,” Washington said.
Lacrosse remains a club sport at Gateway, meaning that it's not sponsored by the school district and the costs fall mainly to the families of participating players. Washington is hopeful to get more school support as the program grows.
Gateway's roster has expanded each year, and this spring is up to 38 players.
While building the program the last two years, Gateway scheduled exhibition games with WPIAL schools that had openings in their schedules. The Gators competed against both varsity and junior varsity clubs.
“I just wanted the kids to get better,” Washington said. “I was new to coaching, so I learned with the kids. As we progressed, we were losing by one or two goals rather than being blown out, so we were making progress.”
The Gators won only once in two years — against Vincentian's JV team last season — but the players and coach were gaining valuable experience. Washington can see the improvement this spring.
“We always played very good defense, but we didn't score a lot. We'd hold teams to four or five goals, but we'd only score two or three,” he said. “Now we're better at the stick skills, which are a huge part of the game, possessing the ball and passing and catching.”
The team also has benefited from the addition of a full-time assistant coach. Sean Walker, a Philadelphia native, played college lacrosse at Lock Haven.
When Gateway started its program two years ago, all the players were new to the sport. Now, as the team prepares for its first season in the WPIAL, Washington has a number of veteran players he can count on.
Senior Jason Katz and juniors Greg Paladin and Jack Washington — the coach's son — will lead the attack. Seniors Shawn Chaudhry and Rob Milne are the top offensive midfielders.
“We've always been a physical team. We're known for that,” Milne said. “We've improved on the basic fundamentals of lacrosse. There's still some things we need to work on, but we're all getting better.”
Senior Chris Frazier and junior long-pole defenseman John Yakim are expected to anchor the defense.
Junior Collin Berdis is in his third season as the starter in goal. He has worked hard to improve, attending various goalie camps during the off-season.
“(Berdis) has been our goalie since Day 1,” Washington said. “He's made great strides, and we're expecting good things from him.”
Expectations are higher for the entire team.
“We have some capable kids with experience, and many of them are still underclassmen,” Washington said. “I would consider it a successful season if we're able to win enough games to make the playoffs.”
Gateway's 16-game WPIAL schedule begins March 27 when the Gators host North Hills.
“That's a big game for us,” Washington said. “It's our first official WPIAL game, and it's at home, so we'll find out where we're at.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.