Gateway boys volleyball coach reflects after special season

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Sunday, May 29, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway boys volleyball team was on the doorstep of a big victory in a WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinal match against Ambridge on May 19 at North Allegheny.

The Gators, champions of Section 2 and the No. 4 seed, led the No. 5 Bridgers, 2-1, in their best-of-five match.

Game 4 went down to the wire, but Ambridge pulled out the 26-24 victory.

The Bridgers ended up taking the fifth and deciding game, 15-9, to advance to the semifinals. The 10-time WPIAL champions finished third overall and qualified for states.

Gateway’s accomplished season — the team brought home the program’s first section title since 1986 — was suddenly over.

Coach Phil Randolph said there was both pride in the team’s effort against Ambridge and also frustration from everyone about what could’ve been coming out of the quarterfinal loss.

“The pride part absolutely is at the forefront,” Randolph said.

“Knowing where we’ve been, where we are today, and how we got here, it was all about hard work and dedication. It showed with how we battled a perennial power like Ambridge. It also stung so much. There were a couple sleepless nights looking back. It was a good example of how every play, every point matters and there is no point in taking the easy path.

“But being a week or two out from the match, knowing there is nothing we can do to change the outcome, we can start to look back and really take stock in what we accomplished all season. We can also use it to be better tomorrow and down the line into next season.”

Gateway started the playoffs with a convincing 3-0 sweep (25-10, 25-15, 25-17) of Keystone Oaks.

“We were the second match of a doubleheader and saw (No. 11) Mars unseat (No. 6) Seton LaSalle immediately before us,” Randolph said.

“It was a strong and palpable reminder that anything can happen in the playoffs and every team is there for a reason. Keystone Oaks certainly had some great talent on their team. The libero in particular, his defense was tenacious. Knowing going in that anything can happen on any given night, and not being a team that has made regular playoff appearances, there certainly was a little bit of anxiousness going in along with the excitement. It was fantastic the way the guys took a breath to start and took off running from there. It was awesome to see.”

Randolph and the other coaches and team members will bid farewell to the senior class which includes Ryan Bozicevic, Aiden Colberg, Gunnar Hayes, Will Kromka, Chris Lewis and Gabriel Sha.

Bozicevic (setter/right side hitter), Colberg (libero), Lewis (outside/middle hitter) and Kromka (outside/middle hitter) were Section 2 first-team all-star selections. Sha (outside hitter) was a third-team pick.

“The seniors brought so much from a talent standpoint and also from a character standpoint,” Randolph said.

“They were verbal leaders and locker room leaders, just everything on and off the court. One of the seniors who I hadn’t talked a lot about — Gunnar Hayes — was a defensive player who always provided strong depth when he was in matches. He also was someone who was an entire buy-in with this program the whole way along who made sure the team was always prepared with extra work. The different leadership roles the seniors took really resonated with the younger guys who know how critical that mentality is in terms of building a program that will be able to weather some storms.”

Randolph said he is excited for starters and strong contributors coming back, such as sophomore setter/right side hitter Jace Beam, junior outside hitter Noah Passalinqua, sophomore middle hitter Ryan Hoffner and sophomore defensive specialist Keagan Kyper, who are expected to form the core of next year’s team.

Beam and Passalinqua were second-team all-section picks, while Hoffner was a third-team selection.

“This is not a total roster reset or rebuild,” Randolph said.

“We have several starters coming back and pieces in place. It is up to the guys to keep the things that they’ve earned. Nothing will be given to them. There also are other things up for grabs. But with the roster being at 30, right now, as opposed to 14 when I started, there is opportunity for people to step up and be a part of some good competition for time on the court. If they want it, it’s theirs for the taking. They are just going to have to earn it the right way.”

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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