Gateway gunning for return trip to WPIAL AAA playoffs
The Gateway varsity girls volleyball team qualified for the WPIAL playoffs last year for the first time since 2005.
Despite a three-game sweep at the hands of eventual Class AAA runner-up Pine-Richland in the first round, Gators head coach Jay Wu said he was pleased with the fight and determination of his players to get back to the playoffs.
The playoff goals re- main for the Gators, and although several starters moved on because of graduation, a core of talent returns.
Wu said he's optimistic about another run to WPIALs.
“After last year and seeing they can play well, they are looking forward to doing just as well this year,” Wu said.
“Making the playoffs is a big deal, no matter who you are. That is what the girls are working for this year. We still have some work to do and are not where we need to be, but we have the talent to do well.”
Three returning players — seniors Allie Briley, Maria Taylor and Brandy Parks — earned All-Section 3 honors last year.
Briley, a powerful outside hitter, was a first-team selection in 2011.
“Allie and I talked a lot before and after we started practices,” Wu said.
“She knows the girls look up to her. She sets the bar and sets it pretty high. She's kind of taken it upon herself to impart know- ledge on the younger girls to help them along. She knows it's not just about her, and she has a team surrounding her.”
Taylor is a 5-foot-11 middle hitter, while Parks returns as the team's libero.
Gateway opened its season Friday with a nonsection game against Norwin, and the Gators also played at Saturday's Franklin Regional Tournament.
“We just wanted to gauge ourselves against the competition,” Wu said.
“Norwin always is a strong team with tall girls. We lost a little bit of height from last year. We wanted to see where we stand and what we need to improve on, and we got a good idea of that.”
Norwin blanked Gateway in three sets, 25-21, 25-16 and 25-18. The Gators tried to rally several times in the three games, but the Knights were just too much in the early-season contest.
“These girls have some fight in them,” Wu said. “I was proud of the girls for not letting Norwin just roll over them.”
Junior Val Pascoe (setter/right side hitter) also returns after starting last season.
Seniors Nicole Benvenuto (outside hitter/middle hitter) and Kayla Aiello (right-side hitter), junior Gabi Davis (setter/right- side hitter), sophomore Julia Bauccio (middle hitter) and freshman Angela Toner (outside hitter) also played in Friday's game with Norwin.
A big change in the off- season saw 2011 Section 4 co-champion Fox Chapel move to Section 3, while Oakland Catholic moved to Section 4.
“The section should be interesting this season,” Wu said. “Fox Chapel always is a good team, but Plum stuck it to them (at Plum) last year. Everyone graduated strong players, but there always is a lot of talent.”
Gateway was scheduled to play at section foe Shaler on Tuesday in a match that was to be contested past the deadline for this week's edition.
The Gators are slated to host Penn Hills on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Furrie Sports Complex.
“We have long-term goals, but we're also trying to focus on some short-term goals and build up from there,” Wu said. “It's those small steps that can take you the whole way down the path.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.