Gateway boys volleyball looks toward future with talented returning lineup

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Sunday, May 30, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway boys volleyball team was the underdog as the No. 14 seed when it traveled to Ambridge on May 18 to take on the No. 3 Bridgers, WPIAL champions in 2018 and ’19, in the first round of this year’s Class AA tournament.

Gators coach Phil Randolph said the team didn’t back down from the challenge and showed how much it had improved this season. They took a game from Ambridge before the more experienced Bridgers finished off a 3-1 victory.

“The match against Ambridge was a losing effort, but I am proud of the way we played,” said Randolph, who saw his team finish 4-5 overall with a 2-4 mark in Section 2-AA.

“Ambridge always has a really good team, and to take a game off of them and be competitive with them the entire time, it was really encouraging to see. This was a match that can help set the foundation and pace for the future, too.”

Gateway started its season meshing returning talent with athletic first-year players.

“It took us a couple of matches to get that rhythm, and when it’s only a nine-match season, you don’t have a great deal of time to do that,” Randolph said.

“But it was a seamless transition for some of the new guys working with the returning guys. There was no drama. It was just 30 great kids who wanted to work together to get better as a team, and they did that.”

Because of covid cancellations and other factors, Gateway was not able to play its two section matches with Derry. It swept Plum late in the regular season and also suffered a pair of losses to Deer Lakes and Mars.

Gateway also picked up a pair of nonsection wins against Penn Hills and Aquinas Academy.

Randolph said there were a lot of logistics that had to be worked out throughout the regular season to get as many games in as possible.

Through it all, he said, his players maintained a positive attitude.

Junior outside hitter Will Kromka missed preseason workouts and the first two matches of the season because of a wrist injury suffered in basketball, but he was able to get back in the lineup. Randolph said his impact was felt by the team and also the other teams in the section as he was named a first-team Section 2 all-star.

“Will is an entirely transformative player,” Randolph said. “Not just physically on the court but verbally as a leader and his body language non-verbal leadership, encouraging other people and being an example as one of the hardest working guys out there. All of those things define programs. To have him coming back next year, there’s no price I could possibly put on that.”

Junior setter Ryan Bozicevic and junior outside hitter Chris Lewis were selected to the second team.

“Ryan, like Will, comes from families who have had a big athletic impact at Gateway,” Randolph said.

“Both of Ryan’s older brothers were strong basketball players here, and he has really come into his own this spring. He’s happy to be a gym rat, being in there every day working hard, and it’s paid off on the court in matches. From being a defensive specialist to now one of the most athletic setters in the section has been fantastic. His serve also is something that keeps getting better and is something that will earn us a lot of points next year.

“To have Chris and Will on opposite sides of each other next year is going to be a massive strength. Chris started in ninth grade and picked the game up quickly and has just grown so much over the past several years. He is gifted athletically and has a great court IQ. He has a great attitude for the game and for his team.”

“Having those three as a foundation with the other guys coming back, there is a lot of excitement in the program.”

Randolph lauded the varying roles of the senior class — Anthony Brown, Sam DiPalma, Ryan Szekely, Ryan Tandoc and JT Taylor.

Szekely was the only senior that had been with the team in previous seasons.

“The impact of the senior class is really felt throughout the program,” Randolph said. “They all stepped up when asked and helped the team in different ways. They certainly made us better this season.”

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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