Gateway boys volleyball refuels, gets ready to take next step

Sunday, March 24, 2024 | 11:01 AM

A year after grabbing the school’s first boys volleyball section championship in 36 years with an 8-0 record in Section 2-2A, the Gateway boys volleyball team fell short of its goals in 2023.

“We’ve had a nice run here the last couple years,” said coach Phil Randolph. “It felt, to me, like we ran out of gas a little bit near the end last year. The level of intensity we demonstrated in the weeks prior to (the playoffs) had not been the same.”

The Gators went 10-6 overall and finished fourth in Section 2-2A with a 6-4 record, making it to the WPIAL playoffs, where they were quickly eliminated in the first round.

Montour was able to take that one off of us, and it left a chip on the shoulder for myself and many of the other guys to where we want to be in a better position at the end of this year,” said Randolph.

Being in a better position at the end will begin with the how the team is constructed at the beginning of this season.

The Gators only lost two seniors from last season: 2023 All-WPIAL Class 2A third team and Class 2A Section 2 all-star outside hitter Noah Passalinqua and rotational player Andre Williams.

“Noah’s presence, both on the court and off, is something that will definitely be missed,” Randolph said. “He could sky over anyone, knew how to read the defense, was very effective as a passer and a great communicator as well.”

“Andre wasn’t necessarily a pivotal piece but had some great leadership qualities,” added Randolph. “Whenever he was called upon, he was working his absolute hardest and gave us his best.”

That leaves Randolph with a full stable of 15 returning seniors ready to get back at it and prove that last year was a misstep along Gateway’s journey to be a prominent school in WPIAL boys volleyball.

“I have a lot of guys who aren’t afraid of hard work, and they’re eager to prove they’re better than anyone on any given day and I honestly believe that,” said Randolph. “I think we’ll surprise some people this season.”

It all starts with the three captains: seniors Chase Anthony, Keagan Kyper and Jace Beam.

Anthony and Kyper are defensive specialists and Beam is a opposite-side hitter and setter. Kyper and Beam were both selected to the Class 2A Section 2 all-star second team last season.

“They all played prominent roles for us last year,” said Randolph. “Keagan was our libero last season and will carry on in that role for us this year.”

The other returning starters include senior middle hitters Mark DiPalma, Jake Pawlowski, Jake Santo and Ryan Hoffer and Alec Dunsmore, who will both be used on the outside as well, and senior hitters Will Hansmann, who will also be used as a setter, and Diego Valentin.

Others include junior Owen Echegaray, who will be a defensive specialist, and junior outside hitter Darious Farrar.

“Darious has really come around for us in the last few seasons,” said Randolph. “He’s a fantastic kid in every regard. Has crazy energy all the time and the hits he has are so hard, they bring the whole gym to a standstill.

“Hoffner is very versatile, can be put in any of the hitting spots on the court and can be a six-spot guy,” added Randolph. “I have a great collection of four kids in my middles, Alec Dunsmore being a real standout right now. It’s only his second year, but he’s hungry to get better every day. Enormous blocking ability and he’s another one that when he hits it, it sounds scary.”

Farrar, Hoffner and Hansmann were third team all-star selections in Class 2A Section 2.

With all his talented upperclassmen returning, Randolph barely has the ability to rotate in any of his younger guys, but he has two underclassmen he wants to gain experience, not just for this year, but for coming seasons.

“Junior Tommy Nikou is going to be sharing among the other two setters,” Randolph said. “He has a wicked serve, moves quickly for a guy his size. The other is sophomore Dan Bozicevic. He’s a lefty who has stepped up and impressed. I can put him outside or weak side and he will throw his body around in the back row as well.”

Gateway’s expectation is to keep progressing forward until the Gators achieve the most sought-after goal.

“We’ve taken major steps every year in terms of getting closer to where we want to be,” added Randolph. “Now it’s about finishing and getting to the point where we challenge every year for that WPIAL title and hopefully going further than that.”

The road will be challenging, especially from a Class 2A perspective, and Randolph expects every match to be “a dogfight.”

“I think Armstrong and Deer Lakes will be hungry to prove that no one should consider them to be on the outside looking in,” said Randolph. “Latrobe and Mars are the top dogs when you look at 2A overall. And you can’t overlook Derry with the discipline and coaching structure that they have.”

The Gators are in a prime position to achieve their goals. They just need to continue down the road they’ve made for themselves and prove to others last year was a fluke.

“It’s a matter of finishing what we’ve started,” said Randolph. “I feel that’s we are just that step away from being right there at the head of the table. This group is pretty special, and I can see us being there. I’m excited to see our hard work pay off.”


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