Gateway girls soccer coach cautiously optimistic about season
Gateway girls soccer head coach Kevin Sanders mixes enthusiasm for his team's chances coming into the season with the knowledge that his team has a number of things still to work on before they are a polished product.
Practices and scrimmages, he said, have produced both positive results and challenges to overcome.
Sanders hopes that everything will come together when the season begins Saturday at 11 a.m. against Hempfield at Antimarino Stadium.
“We're just trying to find the right mix right now,” Sanders said.
While several players moved on because of graduation, including Emily Stevens, the co-leader in points (23) and leader in goals (8) in 2013, there is a strong corps of returning starters and letter winners who will try to get Gateway into the WPIAL playoffs again.
The Gators finished 8-3-1 in Section 3, behind Fox Chapel (11-0-1) and Plum (9-3-1), and seniors Maggie Hilton (midfield), Cara Finoli (defense), Lizzie Pendice (midfield/defense) and Rachel Giannangeli (midfield), junior Kayla Trozzi (forward) and sophomores Maddie Hansmann (midfield), Mackenzie Reed (defense), Steph Vojtek (midfield/forward) and Kristen Greggerson (defense/midfield) are back.
Hilton finished tied with Stevens for the team lead in points, and she led the team in assists (11).
“She has really matured,” Sanders said.
“She is understanding of her role of getting others involved and helping others get better. She's playing faster instead of overanalyzing. She's reacting more than thinking. She's taking advantage of situations quicker.”
Junior Malak Shuman played as a freshman, but was not able to play last year. She returns to the field for the 2014 season hoping to make an impact in the midfield.
Sanders said he expects freshmen Gabby Adams (striker/midfield), Alyssa Beley (defense/midfield) and Courtney Seneca (defense) to come in and produce on varsity.
“We have good depth throughout the midfield,” Sanders said. “Playing sound defense and reducing opponents' shots will be the key.”
Sophomore Emma Skledar backed up three-year starter Allie Warsaw last year, and she hopes to be the one to take over after Warsaw graduated and took her talents to West Liberty State University in West Virginia.
Freshmen Erin Douglass and Kamryn Rozier also have been challenging for time at keeper.
“(Goalkeeper) has been pretty competitive throughout camp,” Sanders said.
Sanders said he got a good look at his team in a scrimmage last week with Elizabeth Forward and WPIAL newcomer Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.
“There were some good things, but we need to be better,” Sanders said.
“We saw some things to clean up. EF's been strong the past couple of years, but they lost some good players. They had some injured players, too. It wasn't the look we were expecting. North Catholic played well for a first-year team. It was good to go live against someone else. We had enough of scrimmaging ourselves.”
Gateway was slated to face Baldwin in a scrimmage Wednesday as a final tune-up before Saturday's opener.
“We've been pretty healthy,” Sanders said. “It's just been some bumps and bruises. There's no serious long-term injuries.”
Gateway opens section play next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against Woodland Hills at Antimarino Stadium.
The Gators welcome Kiski Area and Franklin Regional back to the section.
The Panthers and Cavaliers just missed the playoffs last year out of Section 1.
Gateway hopes to turn around an 0-3-1 record against Plum and Fox Chapel from 2013.
“This is Plum's year to make a name for themselves,” Sanders said.
“They have one of their strongest teams in more than a decade with a lot of experienced players back. They handed it to us last year. We will have our work cut out for us in the section this year. We can take nothing for granted.”
Section 3 has eight teams this year, so there will be 14 section contests, up from 12 last year.
“It will be a challenge in the section. We have to come out prepared to play,” Sanders said.
“We can do well. We have to believe.”