Gateway boys soccer team confident of playoff chances
Last year, the Gateway varsity boys soccer team was in contention for a WPIAL playoff spot in Class AAA until the final week of the regular season.
The Gators finished the section campaign 4-8, up from its 2-9-1 section mark in 2011.
Duda said a couple of close section losses were tough to take.
“We lost a number of section games late,” Duda said.
“The focus this year is to be our best in the last 10 to 20 minutes of the first half and the game. We need to be our strongest down the stretch, whether we are protecting a lead, getting a goal to break a tie or are trying to rally from a deficit. There were a number of times we had a lead late and then would give up something weak. Wins in those games, we felt, would've given us a better shot at making the playoffs.”
With a fresh season about to begin, Duda feels that the mix of returning starters and letterwinners, as well as newcomers to the varsity lineup, can push the team through to the playoffs in 2013.
“The team chemistry is good because these kids have played together for a long time,” Duda said.
“Five or six players were on the same cup team over the winter, and they are bringing that into this season.”
Duda said he's seeing good things in his second year as head coach.
“Last year, being the new coach, I had to get the guys to buy into something different,” Duda said.
“This year, the kids are more adapted to me and the system. We continue to work into this system, and it's going a lot smoother.”
Five seniors and top contributors were lost to graduation, but, Duda said, a lot of skill returned all over the field.
Seniors Nick Contestabile and Matt Davis and juniors Jared Jenkins and Joseph Klonicki were selected as team captains.
“They've stepped up to become leaders and have earned the respect of their teammates,” Duda said.
“They know how much work needs to be put in. They push the players, especially the younger players. They've worked hard right from conditioning workouts.”
Gateway finished 6-11-1 overall last year, and the offense produced 19 goals.
Jenkins, a midfielder, led the team in goals scored with six.
Senior Matt Reynolds and junior Sam Seroky each tallied a pair of goals, while senior Gaurav Pandey, junior Christopher Conti and sophomore Dan Snyder also scored a goal.
Scoring goals this season, Duda said, will be a whole team effort.
“The two games I've seen them play — in the Black vs. Gold game and the scrimmage against East Allegheny — we had a number of different goal scorers,” he said.
“That was nice to see. It's not one individual that takes control of the ball and scores a ton of goals. They've been working together well to get the goals that they need.”
Others, Duda said, who will be a part of the varsity rotation are senior Robert English and juniors Christopher Conti, Kevin Fitchwell and Sam Zeik.
Senior Matt Shapiro has settled into the starting job at goalkeeper for the Gators in place of graduated netminder Nate Kleya, a freshman member of the Pitt-Johnstown men's soccer team this fall.
“Matt backed up Nate last year and played well,” Duda said. “He has really grown since last season.”
Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Fox Chapel and Plum grabbed the three playoff spots from Section 3 last year, and Duda said his team is pumped to challenge for a playoff spot this fall.
“The returning players know they were only a couple of different outcomes away from making the playoffs last year,” Duda said.
“This year, their main goal is to get to the playoffs and go deep.”
Gateway opens its season Saturday at 2 p.m. at Franklin Regional.
The game is the second of a varsity doubleheader between the two schools.
The Gators and Panthers girls squads square off at noon.
“Last year, the game (with Franklin Regional at Antimarino Stadium) went to a double-overtime draw,” Duda said.
“Hopefully, we can put a few more goals in against them. It's nice to start out against a strong team like Franklin Regional.”
Gateway begins section play Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Woodland Hills at Antimarino Stadium.
The Gators travel to play Penn Hills at Linton Middle School on Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
“We've been working hard in practice every day,” Contestabile said.
“We're thinking, ‘Why not us?' Our confidence level is high.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at email@example.com.