Experienced Gateway girls soccer squad set for playoff quest
For the first time in 13 years, the Gateway varsity girls soccer team will begin a season with a new head coach.
Citing the desire to spend more time with his growing family, Chris Spudich stepped down last November after leading the Gators to their fourth consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance.
Taking over as head coach is Kevin Sanders, a veteran mentor of several local amateur soccer teams.
Sanders served as the interim Gateway boys varsity head coach for the last half of the 2011 season, and in March, he was named the new coach of the girls squad.
With only two players moving on from last year's team because of graduation, Sanders knows this team can be special and make a run at a fifth straight trip to the playoffs.
“If the girls want to be a section-champion-caliber team, a playoff-caliber-team and a state-playoff-caliber team, now is the time to step up,” Sanders said. “They all want those things.”
Sanders said several players who are expected to contribute this season have been slowed by injuries throughout preseason camp and for the scrimmage last week against Elizabeth Forward.
“That kind of set us back a little bit,” he said. “But they are battling through it.”
Sanders said he expects senior defend- er/midfielder Courtney Rozeck to be out until after the Penn Hills game on Sept. 10 because of an injury.
Leading the group of returning players is senior forward Carly Seneca, a Pitt recruit.
Seneca scored 17 goals and added 16 assists as a junior and again earned All-WPIAL and all-state honors.
She enters her senior season with 42 varsity goals and 35 assists.
“It's a unique situation to be able to coach a player with Carly's soccer abilities and what she brings to the table,” Sanders said.
“She has high expectations for herself and for this team.”
Also back for Gateway are all-section performers in junior defender Hanna Crable and junior goalkeeper Allie Warsaw.
Crable and Warsaw were parts of a defense that recorded 10 shutouts and helped the team post a 12-5-1 overall record in the regular season and a 9-3 mark in Section 3-AAA play.
Junior forward Emily Stevens was second on the team in goals last season with nine, and she added six assists.
Sophomore midfielder/forward Maggie Hilton completed her first varsity campaign with seven goals and five assists.
Seniors Danielle Crable (midfielder/defender), Danielle Kravits (defender) and Rachel Rettger (midfielder); junior Jackie Warsaw (midfielder); and sophomore Cara Finoli (defender/midfielder) also are back after seeing considerable playing time last year.
Sanders said he also is looking for good things from players such as senior Rebecca Smith (defender/midfielder), junior Hannah Feinberg (midfielder/forward), sophomores Lizzie Pendice (midfielder/defender) and Rachel Giannangeli (midfielder), and freshman Kayla Trozzi (forward/midfielder).
Senior midfielder Alissa Bendorf, Sanders said, has had a good camp coming back from an ACL injury that wiped out the last half of her junior season.
Another senior midfielder — Allison Reed — also is back on the field after an ACL injury. Her injury happened in preseason camp last year, and she missed the entire 2011 campaign.
Sanders said he will be looking to several other younger players, including some freshmen, to be in the varsity mix this season.
“It's time for this team to form its identity,” Sanders said. “The time is now. That's kind of been our motto and my message to them. ”
The Gators again will battle in section play with Fox Chapel, Plum, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.
Change came in the form of 2011 section champion Franklin Regional's exit from Section 3. The Panthers now are in Section 1 with the likes of Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Hempfield. New to the conference are former City League member Allderdice and Oakland Catholic.
Allderdice went 11-4 last year and was 9-0 in City League play. The Dragons fell to Obama Academy, 2-1, in the City League title game.
Oakland Catholic moves over from Section 4, where it finished 8-4 (third place) and qualified for the playoffs behind section champion Peters Township (11-1) and second place Mt. Lebanon (11-2).
Gateway opens its season Saturday evening at 7 against Franklin Regional. The game at Antimarino Stadium is the second game of a varsity doubleheader.
The Panthers and Gators boys teams are slated to do battle at 5.
“Saturday's game should be a great barometer for us,” Sanders said.
“It's the primetime game, and they need to come out ready to play.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.