Gateway boys soccer to rely on deep senior class in quest for playoff berth

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Thursday, September 10, 2020 | 10:17 PM


The Gateway boys soccer team is focused on a return to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time four seasons.

With a sizable group of returning starters and other contributors, the Gators are optimistic they can get the job done.

“There has been a lot of talk about a lot of different areas where we felt we came up short last year, not just on the field,” said coach Bernie Stiles, whose team finished 4-13 overall and 3-9 in Section 4 of Class 3A.

“That has translated into a lot of hard work and attention to detail. There is a lot of excitement.”

The fact that no current Gateway player has been to the WPIAL playoffs — the current crop of seniors were in eighth grade the last time the Gators qualified for the postseason — has created a hunger and an energy to improve.

“The guys have been looking forward to this season and this opportunity for several years,” Stiles said.

“A lot of things are coming together with the senior leadership and the experience, but the guys know they still have work to do to create that success on the field.”

Ten seniors lead the way, paced by captains Sam Alexander (goalkeeper), AJ Brown (forward) and Matt Murphy (defense).

Alexander returns for his third year in goal. He posted shutouts last year against West Mifflin and Penn Hills and earned all-section Finest 15 honors.

“We are just happy to be able to play,” said Alexander, who liked the way his team worked in the offseason to be ready, whether it was in quarantine or through the return to summer workouts.

“We are really motivated to give it our all. We have a lot of seniors, and we want to make this our year and do what we can to make it to the playoffs.”

In addition to the captains, senior striker Chris Snyder is back after scoring a team-best 11 goals last year. For his efforts, he was selected all-section honorable mention.

“This is the first year where we will be older and more experienced than a lot of teams that we play,” Stiles said. “We have a number of guys who have started almost every game of their careers and others with multiple years of starting experience.”

Stiles said he is confident in the leadership and on-field presence of seniors Alex Gutierrez (forward), Bilal Mukhtar (defense) and Jon Rathfon (defense).

Underclassmen ready to take their games to the next level, Stiles said, are juniors Dietrich Zeisloft (midfield) and Cooper Hayes (defense) and sophomores Brendan Strawser (midfield) and Daniel Garner (midfield).

Strawser earned team Rookie of the Year recognition in 2019, following Zeisloft (2018) and Murphy (2017) as winners of that award.

Gateway was able to test its mettle Sept. 8 in a scrimmage against East Allegheny, and a couple of additional practices fed into its opener Monday at Section 4-AAA rival Penn Hills.

The Gators also were to take on two-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champion Franklin Regional on Wednesday at Antimarino Stadium.

The games with the Indians and Panthers were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition. Gateway visits Obama Academy at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The Gators, in a 15-game schedule, also have home-and-home section matchups against Kiski Area, Plum, West Mifflin and Woodland Hills and a nonsection contest against McKeesport.

Plum, Kiski Area and Woodland Hills all made the WPIAL playoffs last year. The Mustangs were the top seed for last season’s Class AAAA tournament, but they were stopped by Canon McMillan in the semifinals and denied a trip to states.

“The section this year is a big challenge,” Stiles said. “I felt we were in the toughest WPIAL section, in my opinion, over the past two years. Two years ago, Thomas Jefferson, the third-place team in the section, made it to states. That was just one example of how tough our section has been and how good those teams could be once they got into the playoffs.

“The goal has always been to have the leadership to convince everybody we are good enough to be in the mix for the playoffs. The section change gave us confidence. We have a familiarity with almost everyone in the section, whether it’s been in section or in nonsection games.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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