Familiar face set to lead Gateway girls volleyball program

Sunday, August 14, 2022 | 11:01 AM

There is a reunion of sorts taking place within the Gateway varsity girls volleyball program.

New head coach Nicole Riley is familiar with many of the team members having coached them and built a rapport with them at the middle school level.

Now, the task at hand as preseason practices begin in advance of the 2022 season is for Riley and her assistants to put the pieces in place for what she hopes is a turnaround from recent struggles on the court.

“I am excited to get this going and help build this team up,” said Riley, who was to meet with the team for the first time Monday after being officially hired a couple of weeks ago.

She takes over for Kayla Taylor who didn’t return after one season with the team. The position opened and was made available in late June.

“I know there are some really talented players who are ready to succeed. We have several crucial days of work ahead of us,” Riley said.

Riley said that despite not working in-person with the players until now, she knows they aren’t coming into the practices cold as many of them took part in open gyms with the boys team throughout the summer.

“A lot of the girls are involved in club teams, too, so it will be really neat to see how they’ve matured since I had them in middle school,” Riley said.

Eight seniors — including Section 3-4A all-stars Lexi Margolis, Sarah Porter and Amaya Robinson — moved on from last year’s team which went 2-10 in a rugged Section 3-4A against the likes of playoff qualifiers Oakland Catholic, Penn-Trafford, Latrobe and Hempfield.

Gateway drops down to Class 3A under the new two-year realignment and will face Hampton, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum, West Mifflin and Woodland Hills.

Hampton fell to Freeport in the WPIAL Class 3A title game last year after rallying to top Plum in the semifinals.

Riley graduated from the former Langley High School and played on the varsity volleyball team.

She attended Penn State and played at the club level and also taught a volleyball class as part of her student-teaching process.

After teaching in Maryland for one year, she came to Gateway, and this year, she is celebrating 25 years of working in the district.

Riley coached volleyball as an assistant at the middle school level for one year and then later returned to the coaching ranks after a hiatus. She has since been a scholastic fixture in the sport with the Gators.

A physical education teacher and coordinator of athletics at the middle school, Riley has served as the middle school girls volleyball head coach the past 11 years.

The team plays in the winter after the middle school boys basketball team finishes its season, and the season runs from the end of January through March.

This past spring, Riley added to her coaching duties as the Gateway boys junior varsity head coach and a varsity assistant to coach Phil Randolph.

“I loved working with Phil and the boys team,” Riley said. “I learned so much, and I also was able to bring up some things I had done with the middle school girls. It was a pretty interesting experience because with boys volleyball, it’s more physical. There were some different officiating styles and approaches to it, too. Varsity volleyball is so fast paced compared to the middle school level.

“With middle school volleyball, I am trying to build the program, so I try to play every player I can and give them that experience they need to grow their skills. At the varsity level, it’s more based on their skill and what they can do for the team in putting the best group on the court to win matches.”

Randolph said he is confident Riley will do well as the varsity girls coach.

“I coached with Nicole at the middle school level, too, and knowing what she has put into that program there, how much she cares about the girls, and what she gives to this district overall, I know everyone is excited to have her now in this position,” Randolph said. “From seeing a lot of the girls at my open gyms over the summer, I think 12 to 15 would be there each time, they are really ready to get going and have a great season.”

Riley said that despite her added duties this fall, she still plans on heading up the girls middle school team and returning as a boys varsity assistant in the spring.

She also will continue as the middle school athletics coordinator.

“I had talked with (athletic director) Don Holl about continuing on with that while also focusing on the high school team,” Riley said.

“Fall is the busy season at the middle school with football, cross country and soccer.”

Riley said she hopes to be a stabilizing force for the varsity girls program for years to come.

“I don’t see myself going anywhere,” she said.

“I’ve loved volleyball my whole life, and I love Gateway. I look forward to working with the program and getting it to its potential.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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