WPIAL experience returns for Gateway boys and girls teams
Experience, leadership and determination are three words that Gateway head swimming coach Jason Kunkle used to describe his boys and girls squads this season.
More than 20 team members — about a third of the team — are seniors, and 14 swimmers are back after competing in individual and/or relay events at WPIALs last year.
“We have a nice group of swimmers back with WPIAL experience,” Kunkle said.
“We have a lot of great leaders and role models in the senior class.”
Several experienced underclassmen, Kunkle said, also are ready to take the next step this season.
“There is a lot of excitement on both teams right now,” he said.
“A lot of the swimmers trained hard in the offseason and devoted themselves. They came into the season in shape and ready to work.”
The boys team lost a trio of talented WPIAL performers to graduation in Ray Doerfler, Drew Nosbisch and Kenny Stevens.
They helped the 2012-13 squad go 7-0 in section competition to claim the section championship.
Nosbisch now is a freshman on the Grove City men's swim team.
Kunkle said this year's boys squad is versatile, and that ability is seen in the performances of returning WPIAL medalists and state qualifiers Alex Caprara and Jake Beley.
Caprara finished sixth in the 200 IM at WPIALs last year and earned a top-eight medal.
He also took fourth in the 100 breast, and he was one of four swimmers in the event to break 58 seconds.
He finished with a time of 57.80.
“Alex knows what it is going to take to reach his goals at WPIALs and states this season,” Kunkle said.
“He trains just about as hard as anyone.”
Beley just missed out on a WPIAL medal in the 100 fly, as he took ninth in a time of 53.19.
The same thing happened in the 100 back, as he took ninth in the event with a time of 54.10.
“Alex is very determined,” Kunkle said. “He, like Alex, has some big goals for his final season.”
Senior Alex Bolen, who also swam the 200 free and 100 back at WPIALs, joined Caprara and Beley on the 200 free relay with Nosbisch, and the quartet finished with a medal-winning, fifth-place performance in a time of 1:27.60.
The same group turned in a fourth-place finish in the 400 free relay (3:12.98).
The 200 and 400 free relays swam at states, as well as Caprara in the 200 IM.
Also back for the boys squad after competing at WPIALs are seniors Sean O'Donnell (100 fly) and Ian Kirkpatrick (100 breast), junior Alex Coutsoumbis (medley relay) and sophomore Mitchell Wolfarth (medley relay).
Bryan Patrick Farren, a sophomore who just missed out on a trip to WPIALs last season, is another member of the boys team, Kunkle said, who is ready to make an impact this year.
Kunkle said he's excited for the large group of girls swimmers this season. The Gateway girls finished 4-2 in section meets last year.
Six swimmers are back after competing at WPIALs last year, and that group is led by the junior combination of Sydney Mandella and Sarah Sheldon.
In addition to relays, both Mandella (100 free) and Sheldon (100 back) competed in individual events at WPIALs.
“Sydney is just a highly motivated individual,” Kunkle said. “Even before the season started she was coming in and telling me what her goals for the season were. Just from looking at how she's practicing, she put a lot of time in the offseason. She is very focused and determined. Sarah also trained hard in the offseason and has put in a lot of yardage in the offseason and in the past couple of weeks.”
Kunkle also will count on the returning talents of WPIAL performers in seniors Val Pascoe (200 medley relay), Abbey Kimicata (200 free relay, 400 free relay) and Kylie Hagerich (200 free relay) and junior Erin Rozeck (200 medley relay, 400 free relay).
Kunkle said the senior class is one of the biggest in his time as Gateway head coach.
Despite losing a third of the team after this season, he said he is happy to have a lot of talented and dedicated underclassmen and a big freshman class to fill that void when the time comes.
Kunkle said the teams' December nonsection schedule will be challenging.
Gateway opens at home Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Hempfield.
The Gators travel to Penn-Trafford on Dec. 12 and host Franklin Regional on Dec. 17.
“The hardest point of the season is the first month because all they are doing is training,” Kunkle said.
“Our first three meets are against some of our biggest rivals and some of the best teams in the WPIAL. It gets them mentally focused. The kids see some success early and qualify for WPIALs in some events, but they also realize its a long season and they have a long way to go. It will give us a good idea of where we are and where we need to be when we come back in January and get into the section schedule.”
Senior Alison Perry is a key member of the Gateway girls swim team, but she also will lead a large group of Gators divers.
Ten divers — four boys and six girls — will hope to make a splash, figuratively speaking, and head coach Mehran Hedjazi said he's excited to help mentor one of the biggest diving groups in school history.
Perry returns for her final season on the board after another trip to the WPIAL Class AAA diving championships last year.
She is gunning for a spot in the top 10 after placing 12th as a junior.
“Alison is basically like an assistant coach, and she is great at helping me with having such a large team,” Hedjazi said.
Experience also returns on the boys side in the form of senior Jared Campbell.
They are the only two seniors.
Freshmen Jonathan Gable, John Neff and Nicholas Pietrusinski join the varsity boys squad, while the girls diving team also will feature sophomores Taylor Gerstel and Stephanie Katofsky, as well as freshmen Maureen Kirkpatrick, Emma Nicolazzo and Riley Smith.
“The younger divers are looking really good this year,” Hedjazi said.
“I am excited to have a lot of time to work with them. It's a pretty athletic group overall.”
Hedjazi said he's not ruling out several of the younger swimmers from breaking through and qualifying for WPIALs.
The divers will join the swimmers at the three December meets.