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Gateway ends Section 4-AAA schedule on a positive note

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
The Times Express
Nicole Benvenuto is one of five seniors on the Gateway varsity girls volleyball team who celebrated a victory over McKeesport in the season finale on Oct. 18, 2012. Gary Bills | The Times Express

Despite not qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs, the Gateway varsity girls volleyball team was able to finish its season on a high note last week, as it went on the road and shut out McKeesport, 3-0.

“Everybody wants to win, and knowing they weren't going to make the playoffs, it was even more important to finish strong,” Gateway head coach Jay Wu said.

“The girls, especially the seniors, realized it was their last game. They wanted to go out with a bang. They wanted to have fun, but they also wanted to play focused and do what they needed to do to get the win.”

The win capped Gateway's season at 7-9 overall and 6-6 in Section 4-AAA behind champion Oakland Catholic, Shaler and Plum.

The Gators were right in the middle of the section standings, as the Gators swept two matches from Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and McKeesport, but were not able to get over the hump in the season series against the three playoff qualifiers from the section.

“Shaler, Oakland Catholic and Plum are good teams, and we have a pretty strong section,” Wu said.

“We struggled with them at times and didn't play our best, but we still played hard and put everything we had into those games. We just fell short. That's sports. It's going to happen. (Shaler, Oakland Catholic and Plum) were the better teams in those matches, but we didn't back down.”

Wu said he was proud of his team throughout the season, both in and out of section play. Gateway also picked up a nonsection win against Franklin Regional.

“The girls went out and did the best they could each night,” Wu said.

The seniors — Allie Briley, Maria Taylor, Brandy Parks, Kayla Aiello and Nicole Benvenuto — played their final matches against McKeesport, and they went out on top.

The group will move on with the knowledge that they were on a team that made the playoffs in 2011, snapping a streak of five straight nonplayoff seasons.

“They definitely helped and trained the younger girls,” Wu said. “That leadership will help the younger girls, and I feel they will step up next year and fill those shoes. The team will still be young, and they have some work to do and some learning to do.”

Briley and Taylor, Wu said, aren't done with volleyball, and continue to pursue playing the sport at the next level.

Wu said both Briley and Taylor are looking into programs at the Division II level.

Only three juniors were on the varsity and JV rosters this year, and five sophomores and seven freshmen were on the roster.

Players such as juniors Gabriella Davis and Kayge Thompson, as well as sophomore Julia Bauccio, Janette Kim and Emily Perry, were contributors on varsity.

“We're still going to be young,” Wu said.

Freshman Angela Toner saw a considerable amount of varsity time as a freshman this season.

“She settled in, and her play improved throughout the season,” Wu said. “She became more of an aggressive player. That can help her next year be a leader for the other young girls.”

Wu said he would like to increase the returning players' level of volleyball play as far as club ball in the offseason, but he knows some of the girls also play other sports during the winter and spring months, and their time is limited.

Briley, an outside hitter, earned first-team All-Section 4-AAA honors this season in a vote of the section's coaches.

Taylor, a middle hitter, was selected to the second team, while Parks and Aiello, a libero and right- side hitter, respectively, were named to the honorable-mention list.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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