Gateway girls soccer navigates tough stretch of schedule to make playoffs

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Saturday, October 24, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway girls soccer team finished its regular season with seven games in 11 days as a stretch of time off because covid issues within the school district created a stretch run more compact than normal.

Coach Kelly Bender said she couldn’t have been more proud of the way her players battled throughout the busy stretch and earned their third consecutive trip to the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.

“Keeping them both mentally and physically healthy throughout that week and a half was our top priority as coaches,” Bender said. “Not only were we playing seven games in 11 days, but we were playing the top three teams in our section in five of those games.

“We went into double overtime twice. It was tough to see us lose a couple of games we should’ve been more competitive in, and it was hard to see players suffering from soft tissue injuries that come from pushing your body the way they did.

“I am a big fan of periodization, and there wasn’t much we could do to try to follow any type of rest with that schedule. If our team was rested, I believe some of the results would have been different.”

The Gators had already locked up a playoff spot prior to their section finale Oct. 20 with Armstrong, but they took care of business with a 2-0 win over the River Hawks behind goals from sophomore Daniella Gardner and junior Kira Pavlik.

“Our section was very competitive,” Bender said. “The teams were well-coached, the players showed a lot of passion, and we had talent across the board.”

Bender gave her players a couple of days off before preparing for Monday’s WPIAL opener. Gateway, the fourth-place team from Section 1 (7-8, 5-7) behind section champion Hampton, runner-up Franklin Regional and third-place Kiski Area, drew the No. 15 seed and was scheduled to face No. 2 Plum in the first round.

Former section rivals, Gateway and Plum met in the first round for the second year in a row. Plum won last year’s postseason matchup on penalty kicks and went on to finish as the runner-up to Mars.

Gateway led Franklin Regional (10-1-1) 3-1 in an Oct. 15 game at Gateway, but the Panthers rallied for a 4-3 victory. To that point, Franklin Regional had surrendered only three goals in 10 games.

The Gators also took section champion Hampton to overtime Oct. 12 before losing 2-1. Two days earlier, Gateway went to overtime with Indiana and scored a 1-0 win.

“I don’t think anyone could question our girls’ effort,” Bender said. “Every single person on our team helped carry us through, both on and off the field. I was impressed with how much energy they were able to put forth. They left everything they had on the field day in and day out.”

Gateway had three games rescheduled during the week-long stoppage that started Sept. 23 after a loss to Kiski Area.

When play resumed, Gateway won four in a row, including section matchups over Knoch and Armstrong in addition to the OT triumph over Indiana.

“When we got back together and figured out the rest of our season schedule, we decided to focus on one game at a time,” Bender said. “Instead of being bitter about it, we accepted the cards we were dealt and were grateful to be able to finish the season.”

Eight players combined to score Gateway’s 26 regular-season goals. Pavlik and Garner scored six each, while freshman Jada Settles added four. Also scoring goals were junior Addy Green (3), sophomore Emily Mannion (3), sophomore Madi Jesih (2), junior Jenna Shuman and sophomore Natalie Helman.

Joelle Jenkins, Ava Weiss and Anna Segar were honored during a senior-night ceremony before an early season conference win over Knoch.

“This group of seniors led the team with initiative and heart, especially in our defensive third,” Bender said. “They’ve been extremely coachable and great examples for the rest of the team to follow.”

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

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