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Trib Cup Contest: Gateway girls soccer aims for deep playoff run

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 6:26 p.m.
Gateway's Carly Seneca battles Oakland Catholic's Taylor Renk for the ball during their Section 3-AAA game Monday September 17, 2012 in Munhall. 
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Gateway's Carly Seneca battles Oakland Catholic's Taylor Renk for the ball during their Section 3-AAA game Monday September 17, 2012 in Munhall. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

First-year coach Kevin Sanders knows the Gateway girls soccer team has made the playoffs each of the past two seasons.

Having lost in the first round in each appearance, Sanders is set on avoiding an early exit this season.

The Gateway girls' quest for postseason success is the focus of this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature.

Gateway has shined across the board and is tied for fifth place in the Class AAAA standings.

The girls soccer team has been key to the school's success. It opened the season by winning its first three games before dropping a 3-1 nonsection decision against Penn-Trafford.

Gateway (5-1, 4-0) rebounded to win its next two games — a 2-1 win over Oakland Catholic on Monday and an 8-0 win against Allderdice in Section 3 on Wednesday.

“I think we came out fast, and we have had what I call a little bit of dropoffs in our game,” Sanders said. “We start out strong, drop off and pick it up. We have yet to play a full, consistent game.”

The Gators are led by Carly Seneca — their leading goal scorer the past two years and a returning All-WPIAL selection — and her understudy, sophomore Maggie Hilton. The duo has provided a dynamic one-two punch, with Hilton improving under Seneca's tutelage.

“It's been pretty key that we've picked up where we left off last year,” Seneca said. “We didn't lose much, so we didn't have to start over. The players who came back improved and have really picked up their roles.”

Junior forward Emily Stevens and freshman Kayla Prozzi have been solid role players.

The rotating outside-midfielder position has gotten improved production from senior Becca Smith, junior Hannah Seinberg and sophomore Rachel Gianegli.

Senior defender Danielle Kravitz and junior Hannah Cable have brought stability to the defensive zone. Sanders changed schemes in the offseason and switched the defense from a sweeper/stopper formation to a flat back. The transition took time, but Kravitz said it's beginning to improve on the field

“I think switching schemes has been a big transition, but I think since we both play it in Cup, we got used to it,” Kravitz said. “It works great for us because it prevents anyone from taking runs into our zone.”

Sanders took steps this offseason to assure the Gators don't wear down. Throughout preseason camp, Gateway rarely touched a ball, and conditioning became the utmost of importance.

“The biggest thing early on is getting the kids to understand that being in tip-top shape makes a big difference from just being in shape,” Sanders said. “Being more athletic at times can help you out throughout the season.”

Seneca has been a vocal leader in relaying Sanders' message behind closed doors and said the conditioning has improved on-field performances.

“We are a lot stronger this year because of all the summer conditioning, so come the playoffs it shouldn't be an issue,” she said. “We've been finishing better and getting a lot more players involved. A lot of girls have been scoring, not just one or two.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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