Gateway girls pleased with season despite falling short in title defense

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Saturday, March 2, 2019 | 10:06 AM


Goal No. 1 was achieved by the Gateway girls basketball team.

The Gators won the Section 2-5A championship, squeaking past Franklin Regional atop the standings.

“We had good year thus far,” said Curtis Williams, who is in his fourth season as Gateway’s coach. “We did a lot of good things on the court. There were several challenges and changes we encountered. The biggest challenges were finding new leaders on the team, and changing the defensive philosophy from zone to man-to-man.”

The Gators were derailed — abruptly — in their quest for Goal No. 2, repeating as WPIAL Class 5A champion.

Gateway lost 79-52 in the WPIAL quarterfinals to red-hot Thomas Jefferson, which advanced to the WPIAL championship.

“The loss to TJ was disappointing, but it shows exactly how hard it is to win a championship at the 5A level,” coach Curtis Williams said, “and it’s even harder to repeat as champion. That is not meant to take anything away from TJ. They played very hard and shot extremely well. They were the better team on that day.

Gateway took a nine-game wining streak and No. 3 seed into the WPIAL playoffs. The Gators were 15-1 in their final 16 regular-season game, and earned first place in the section with an 11-1 record, one game ahead of Franklin Regional (17-7, 10-2).

Gateway defeated Franklin Regional twice and split its two-game series with Plum, which placed fourth in the section.

After falling to Plum in their section opener, the Gators reeled off 11 consecutive victories in league play.

Gateway won the Fayette County Coaches tip-off tournament at Penn State Fayette in early December and the Betsy Invitational at Elizabeth Forward later in the month.

At press time, Gateway still was in the running for a PIAA playoff berth. The top five teams in WPIAL Class 5A qualified for states.

Three starters from the 2017-18 squad, seniors Mary Kromka and Jenna Guido and junior Lexi Jackson, returned to the Gators lineup this season.

Kromka, a 5-foot-11 guard/forward, is a four-year starter, three-year captain and the team’s second-leading scorer with a 13.5 points. Kromka also ranked as the Gators’ second-leading rebounder (7.7). She had a team-high 17 points against TJ.

Guido, a two-year starter, is a 5-8 senior guard. She contributed 6.1 points and 6.7 rebounds this season.

“Our senior leadership was good,” Williams said. They kept the team together and supported and encouraged our younger players all year. There was a quiet yet steadying effect to their leadership style.

“Our seniors did a tremendous job of changing the culture for girls basketball at Gateway to one of inclusion and selflessness.”

Jackson, a 6-3 center, has been recruited by Western Michigan, James Madison, North Carolina A&T and Radford. She averaged a double-double this season: 16.3 points 18 rebounds. She also averaged five blocks.

Jackson scored a personal-best 37 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and blocked 11 shots Jan. 9 in a nonsection win at Baldwin.

Rounding out the Gators’ lineup are sophomore Dynasty Shegog, a 5-11 guard/forward and Seton LaSalle transfer; and freshman Lexi Margolis, a 5-8 point guard.

“There was a lot of growth from all the girls, but Lexi Margolis probably did the most growing over the course of the season,” Williams said. “Walking in as a freshman who really never played guard, let alone point guard, and helping lead our team to the playoffs shows her overall growth and development as a player.

“Dynasty Shegog did a lot. She guarded the opponent’s best ball-handler with the likes of Cali Konek and Tai Johnson. Dynasty was a post player her entire career until this season. That shows her unselfishness and her overall commitment to the team, taking on the tough assignments despite her inexperience at the position.”

Key reserves for the Gators include junior forward Annie Garness, freshman forward Grace Weiskircher and freshman guard Kira Pavlik.

“We are in a significantly better position after Year 4 than we have been entering the next season during my tenure (at Gateway),” Williams said, “and I am looking forward to continuing the success.

“We won the section title, the first since 2012-13. Coming off the first WPIAL championship in school history, our seniors have had a successful high school career. From winning nine games as freshman, to 17 games as sophomores, 25 wins and a WPIAL championship as juniors and a 19-win season (in 2018-19) if we don’t qualify for states. That’s 70 wins in a career.”

The playoff loss to TJ dropped the Gators to 19-4 overall.

“To be 19-4, I would say we did a good job of transitioning,” Williams said.

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