Gateway savors elusive section volleyball title

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Sunday, May 15, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The 36-year wait to put another number on the boys volleyball section-title banner in the gym at the Gateway Furrie Sports Complex has ended. Head coach Phil Randolph and his players couldn’t be more excited.

Gateway clinched its first section title since 1986 with a 3-0 win over Mars on May 3.

The Gators then capped Section 2-2A play May 10 with a 3-1 victory at Plum where they won the first game, lost the second, and then took games three and four.

“It is something that is legitimately difficult to put into words, just knowing where this program was at and where it is right now,” Randolph said of the section title.

“It’s not by luck or by accident. It came through hard work and discipline and a lot of dedication, both in and out of season. The guys (went) into the playoffs hoping to prove this is not a fluke.”

Gateway hoped to be a top-eight seed when the WPIAL Class 2A pairings were released on Friday.

First-round games were to begin as early as Monday, past the deadline for this week’s edition.

The top three seeds received byes into the quarterfinals.

Randolph said his players were ready to shift their focus from the section title to the playoffs.

Section matches with fellow playoff qualifiers Plum, Deer Lakes, Derry and Mars, he said, helped get the team ready for the playoffs, as well as a couple of nonsection matchups and play in high-level tournaments.

Under normal circumstances, only the top four teams from a section make the playoffs.

In the case of Gateway’s section, five teams qualified.

Deer Lakes and Mars both finished 1-7 and tied for fourth. Because the teams split their season series, both made the field.

“On any given night, any of the teams in the section certainly had the talent to put it all together,” Randolph said. “It usually came down to consistency through a match. Our mentality in matches was taking nothing for granted if we were up in a game or knowing we were not out of any game, no matter the score. So much can change over the course of a game.”

Seniors in setter Ryan Bozicevic, hitter Chris Lewis, libero Aiden Colberg, hitter Will Kromka, and hitter Gabriel Sha formed the nucleus of the varsity lineup throughout the regular season.

“That section title was huge for us. It gives us a lot of confidence going into playoffs,” Colberg said prior to the Gateway win over Plum.

“We worked hard for it, and it means a lot. We went into every section match knowing that if we played our best game, we would get the win.”

Plum was the last line of defense for Gateway on May 10 as the Mustangs hoped to play spoiler and put a blemish on the Gators’ section record.

The Gators had other ideas.

“Plum looked fantastic, clear growth from the last time we played them,” said Randolph, referring to a 3-1 Gators win over the Mustangs at Gateway on April 19.

“We were able to make the plays at the right times to hold them off. It was a good win for us.”

Lewis was under the weather and didn’t play in the section finale.

“Chris has been one of our best players for years, and not having him magnified the role he plays on our team,” Randolph said.

“With any sport, it’s next man up, and the guys dug a little deeper and worked a little harder. It was awesome to see all of that come to fruition tonight.”

Randolph said an early season nonsection matchup with Seton LaSalle, which the Rebels won 3-2, told him a lot about his team and where they were headed.

Seton LaSalle was highly ranked all season in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 2A top-10 poll.

The Rebels swept Section 3, including playoff qualifiers Trinity, Thomas Jefferson and Keystone Oaks.

The Gators trailed Seton 2-0 in the April 4 match before battling back to a 2-2 tie.

“We knew we had to play our best against last year’s defending (WPIAL) champs,” Randolph said.

“Going down there, it was pretty much us pre-heating the oven. At first, we kind of psyched ourselves out, believing we were who we once were. As that match went on, we began to realize that we were our own biggest enemy and were getting in our own way. We ended up losing 3-2, but it was a nailbiter down the stretch.

“The final set was very close. We walked out of there with the feeling where you might lose, but it also feels like a win. It was a win for us because we knew we went toe-to-toe and battled with our backs against the wall against a storied program in the WPIAL.”

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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