Gateway boys volleyball making playoff push in Section 2-2A

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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway boys volleyball team found itself squarely in the mix of the Class 2A rankings from the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.

The Gators have been in the top 10 since the start of the season, and were fifth in the Week 5 rankings released April 15.

“We are active in monitoring the weekly coaches’ rankings, and I share a cropped version of the email from (WPVCA president) John (Lawrence) with the boys every week when they come out,” Gateway coach Phil Randolph said.

“For us, the weekly rankings are a good motivator and ‘bulletin board material’ to motivate the boys to leave everything on the court so that other teams see them the way that I see them. It is always a good feeling that others are seeing the ‘invisible hours’ that we are putting into this program.”

Gateway stood at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in Section 2-2A after a tough 3-2 loss (25-20, 25-17, 25-19) to Class 2A No. 1 Mars on April 16 and a 3-0 nonsection victory (25-21, 25-17, 25-13) over Penn Hills one day later.

“I like where we are right now,” Randolph said. “Like any competitive coach, I’m never entirely content and am always proactive in staving off complacency, but in the big picture sense, yes, I’m an enormous believer in these guys because they’ve shown me time and time again that they’re willing to make the sacrifices that are demanded for those in pursuit of greatness.

“In the weeks ahead, I am hoping to see the guys continuing to push one another in both practice and play scenarios so that internal competition brings out the best when it comes time for external match play. In multiple positions, we have very talented players and legitimate depth with regard to guys who would unquestionably be standout stars on other squads. In order to put ourselves in the best position for a healthy playoff run, we need to put our best six on the court, and there’s only one old-fashioned way to find yourself there and that’s by earning it.”

Randolph said he was proud of the way his team performed against Mars.

“Each set was close,” he said. “There was some spectacular back row defense from our libero, Keagan Kyper, and some tremendous flexibility and precision from each of our setters, Jace Beam, Will Hansmann and Tommy Nikou. Stepping up and delivering big swings and hits from the front row that night were Alec Dunsmore (opposite), Ryan Hoffner (outside hitter) and Jake Pawlowski (middle blocker).

“In looking ahead, I know that we have more guys in our lineup who are eager to see their names in print for the right reasons.”

Gateway will get a second crack at Derry on Thursday at the Furrie Sports Complex. It is a rematch of the Gators’ first section setback at Derry, 3-0 (25-22, 25-18, 25-20), on April 2.

“The match with Derry was a tough start (to section play), and even after a few weeks, I can’t say with fidelity exactly what went wrong that night,” Randolph said.

“I do know, however, that there wasn’t a singular catalyst for where we started to go awry. From the jump, we just weren’t ourselves that evening, and Derry was bringing the thunder. Every set was relatively close, but the momentum was constantly on Derry’s side. They had no intention of waiting around for us to catch up with them. Shawn’s (Derry coach Shawn Spencer) kids are always well conditioned, scrappy and ready to swing, so there were no surprises there. When we see them at home, we certainly intend to prove that we have grown in the right ways since our last meeting.”

Gateway rebounded from the loss to Derry with three straight wins in section — Armstrong, 3-1; Deer Lakes, 3-0; and Latrobe, 3-0; along with a 3-0 nonsection victory over Class 3A Mt. Lebanon.

“The wins against Armstrong, Deer Lakes and Latrobe were massive for building back up our confidence and reminding ourselves what we are capable of when we are truly working together as a team,” Randolph said.

“In each match, it was easy to feel really proud of these guys for leaving it all out on the court and playing selfless ball. We have a big squad and a lot of guys who are always hungry for more time on the court, yet I feel that we were able to get contributions from each of them without having to worry about catering to individual egos.

“Any triple-A match is always exciting because it provides an opportunity not only to see what the level of competition looks like at some of the larger schools in the area but also to play around a bit with our lineups to try some things out that I might be a bit more hesitant to experiment with when playoff spots are on the line in section play. With Mt. Lebanon in particular, it was awesome to see the enthusiasm with their coaches and players as they continue to build the foundation for their revived program.”

Gateway was to start this week with its second meeting with Mars.

The Gators entered this week down one key player as senior outside and opposite side hitter Diego Valentin is lost for the season after suffering an ankle injury in practice two weeks ago.

“Not only is Diego tremendously talented as a quick-strike, flexible hitter, but also he has soft and reliable hands that allowed for him to be an invaluable asset on serve-receive,” Randolph said.

“Losing someone with such an eclectic skill set is a tough pill to swallow to say the very least, and it’s heartbreaking to have such an unfortunate injury occur to such an all-around great kid.”

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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