Gateway boys volleyball players earn all-star honors after WPIAL playoff exit

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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The third time didn’t end up being the charm for the Gateway boys volleyball team against No. 1 Mars in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals May 16.

“There’s no way around it; Mars has an exceptional, disciplined program that is littered with legitimate athletes,” Gateway coach Phil Randolph said.

“Not only are they physically talented, but they also are ‘court smart’ and have the grit and wherewithal to pick themselves up when something goes awry. As soon as you get the timing down for one piece of the attack, they can shift to another equally talented guy to take the reins.”

Mars took the first game between the section rivals, 25-14. Undaunted, the Gators came back for a 25-16 win in Game 2.

The Planets, who advanced to the WPIAL title game against No. 6 Armstrong last Thursday at Peters Township, were just too strong and closed out the match, 25-14 and 25-19.

Gateway, the No. 8 seed which swept past Seton LaSalle, 3-0, in the first round, finished its season at 9-6 overall.

“Following the win at Seton and being mindful of the matches that we had with Mars both in section and in tournament play throughout the season, the guys were definitely loose and confident heading into the second round,” Randolph said.

“Of course, we knew who we were going up against, so there weren’t imaginings of any light work ahead of us. But we knew that we could beat those guys if we kept our own house in order and delivered on our own potential. Looking back on the evening now, I am beyond proud of the effort that my boys put in. At the time, we were one of only two teams to take a single set off these guys all season, and we did so against their starters in the second set.”

Randolph said it was fun to see his team playing at full speed in the first-round win over Seton. The Gators rolled to wins of 25-17, 25-12 and 25-12.

From the jump they were loose, spry, bouncy, determined, and, above all else, cohesively working together,” he said.

“With this group, not only could you physically see it when they were clicking, but even if you were outside the gym, you could hear it. Their energy was palpable, and that was easily my favorite piece of feedback to receive from players and officials over the year.

“We were absolutely mindful of being present in the moment and not looking past Seton to Round 2. Heading into the match, we balanced film study where we made note of what we thought we might be able to exploit with the Rebels while simultaneously keeping the rust off during some light practice runs.

Gateway punched its ticket to the playoffs by finishing in a four-way tie for second place in Section 2 with Derry, Armstrong and Latrobe.

“I can’t stress enough how impactful this group has been on refining, enhancing and furthering the expectation that when we step on the court, we have put in the necessary time and work to expect to bring home a win,” Randolph said.

“That doesn’t mean that it will ever be easy, but it does mean that we are always playing to win, which is not the same thing as playing not to lose. The guys who constituted this squad this year walked around with the confidence of winners which is how they deserve to maneuver after making three consecutive playoff appearances over the past three years.”

In addition to team success, individual players picked up season honors including Section 2 first-team all-star laurels for 6-foot-3 senior outside/right side hitter Alec Duns­more.

“Alec is a tremendous talent who was one of the easiest guys to coach,” Randolph said.

“He is constantly hungry to be better, faster and stronger, and he is unafraid to dive head-first into something new that he hasn’t yet explored. When Alec started playing last year, you could tell that he had the potential to be something special. When he walked off the court for the last time this season, there was no doubt this kid is an absolute athletic specimen. Had Alec started playing during his freshman year, I can say without hesitation that this kid would be playing D-I ball next season. Even though we only got two years out of him, we are thankful for every minute because when Alec was on the court, there was nothing that we couldn’t do.”

Also earning section all-star recognition were second-team picks in senior setter/right side hitter Jace Beam, junior outside hitter Darious Farrar and senior libero Keagan Kyper.

Honorable mention went to junior defensive specialist Owen Echegaray, senior setter/right side hitter Will Hansmann and senior outside hitter Ryan Hoffner.

“I really can’t say enough about how much I will miss this group of seniors,” Randolph said.

“From an athletic standpoint, this group is rife with talent and always ready, willing and able to deliver on the court. On a personal level, these are all legitimately incredible young men whose passion and dedication is truly inspiring and whose humor and silliness can make any cramped, sweaty or generally displeasing environment into one that is filled with laughter. While they are each going on to bigger and better things to come, their fingerprints are all over this program, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Randolph said the returning players are charged with keeping the team success going.

“The skills, devotion and leadership of Darious and Owen will be invaluable in the weeks and months ahead as we get ready for the 2025 season,” Randolph said.

“The same can certainly be said for junior setter Tommy Nikou, as well. Had I not had two section all-star setters ahead of him in this graduating class, Tommy never would’ve left the court. These three young men have a lot of extra weight to carry this upcoming season with so many pivotal pieces of our team graduating, but I know that they will be up for the task and eager to do right by their brothers who are graduating.”

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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