Gateway boys volleyball uses playoff defeat as learning moment

Sunday, May 28, 2023 | 11:01 AM

On the road and down a set in its WPIAL Class 2A first-round match against No. 7 Montour on May 16, the No. 10 Gateway boys volleyball team punched back and scored a win in set two to even things up.

“It was nothing short of awesome to see us get moving in that second set,” said Gateway coach Phil Randolph, who saw his team capture the second set, 25-21, after a tough 25-23 setback in the opener.

“I think that if you were a betting man, your money would’ve been on Gateway from that point forward. It looked like we were ready to kick the door down and run through that house at that point. But this was certainly a teachable moment in regards to ensuring that the race is won before we take our eyes off the road.”

Montour shook off Gateway’s momentum from the second set and won sets three and four, 25-21 and 25-22, to capture the match and send the Gators to a sudden end to their season.

“Our total point differential on the evening was five points,” Randolph said. “Last season, the number that stared us in the eyes was 36, the amount of years it had been since we won a section title, and we worked all of last year to ensure that number was put in the rearview mirror. Looking ahead, the new number will be five, a constant reminder that small mistakes add up to big consequences when they aren’t dealt with purposefully and immediately. If we want to turn that corner entirely, it has to start here with ironing out these “little things that when weighed in totality aren’t really all that small.”

Randolph said it was tough to categorize the emotional state of the players with a sudden end weighed against a strong season overall which, he said, further legitimized the program.

“The guys worked so hard and bought in, which is surely cause to celebrate,” he said.

“On the other hand, it was frustrating and tough to swallow that we couldn’t turn it up a little sooner and/or a little stronger. There was a conviction in knowing that we really could’ve been that ‘wild card’ team that no one wanted to draw in the matches (after the first round). It’s tough when you know that there is reason to smile, yet the smell of disappointment and ‘what could have been’ is so fresh and palpable.”

Randolph said the playoff loss is hopefully a learning experience for the returning players.

“We learn best by experience, and while that evening’s experience would not lead to a follow-up playoff match, it will not be a forgotten footnote either,” Randolph said.

“Next year at this time, we won’t make the same mistakes that we did this time around. Ahead is the only reasonable direction that we can look.”

Gateway finished third in Section 2-2A behind section co-champions and WPIAL top seeds Latrobe and Mars.

Mars needed five sets to dispatch Montour in the quarterfinals.

The Wildcats and Planets both suffered losses in the WPIAL semifinals and were to meet last Thursday for third place.

“All throughout Class 2A, it seemed that an ‘any given Sunday’ storyline could unfold, and I know from what I saw this season we could have been that team, and the guys know it, too,” Randolph said.

“So, while we’re boarding a little bit different of a crew for next season, we’ll be keeping the lessons learned from those who are sailing in different directions in life after Gateway near to our hearts, and we’ll look to finish the chapter that we started this season so that we have a story that we are entirely proud to tell.”

Gateway was a young team this year with just two seniors — Noah Passalinqua and defensive specialist Andre Williams.

Passalinqua, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, was Gateway’s lone Section 2 first-team selection.

“Noah was a magician on the court,” Randolph said. “You wouldn’t necessarily know it just by looking at him, but the kid has hops, and he can hang in the air in a manner that defies conventional physics. On top of that, he’s smart, he’s disciplined, he’s constantly hungry, and — above all — he’s a model teammate. Getting the ball in Noah’s hands was usually a guaranteed point, but if points came from somewhere else, Noah wasn’t ever one to complain. He was never worried about ‘getting his.’ Instead, it was always about ‘getting ours.’”

Randolph said Williams, like Passalinqua, was a leader on and off the court.

“Andre was a part-time starter who was in a shared rotation with a few underclassmen who were equally hungry for court time,” Randolph said.

“They both were quick to help the younger guys, eager to ensure that things ran as scheduled during practices, and were resolute about staying focused on the now. We were this past season and we will be in future seasons a better, stronger, smarter and more disciplined program because of the fingerprints that these guys are leaving behind.”

Gateway will be fronted next season by a core group of returnees which includes all-section second-team selections in junior setter Jace Beam and junior libero Keagan Kyper.

Also back are third-team picks in sophomore outside hitter Darious Farrar, junior setter Will Hanamann and junior outside hitter/middle hitter Ryan Hoffner.

“We have a lot of reasons to feel like we are picking up in about as good of a position as we possibly could be next season,” Randolph said.

“As the season went on, Darious really locked down the other outside hitter position opposite Noah, and I am beyond excited to see how he continues to grow. As for taking Noah’s spot, we’ll have some fiery competition primarily between Ryan and junior Diego Valentin, both of whom will be playing lots of volleyball in the days and weeks ahead between our open gyms and their club seasons. Of course, nothing is locked in, and court spots are earned not awarded, so things could surely change.

“This is a great group of young men, and they are not allergic to hard work or afraid of sweat or bruises. By the time the bus had pulled in from Montour, I had a couple guys already asking me how soon we can start up in the summer. It’s impossible not to be boastfully proud of a group of young men like this.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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