Gateway volleyball adjusts to move to Class 4A

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Sunday, September 20, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Gateway girls volleyball coach Phil Randolph said last season ended with a framework established that can lead to a turnaround in the program’s fortunes.

“Last year was one of those things where the scoreboard didn’t really tell the honest story of our season,” said Randolph, whose Gators were 4-10 in Section 1-AAA and finished sixth in the standings.

“We lost several close games and matches. It was a matter of having leads, but not being able to close out games. Learning from that is something we can take to task this year, knowing that being close enough or knowing we are better than how our record looks is not good enough.”

With the coronavirus pandemic throwing a wrench into offseason work, the Gators nevertheless were able to meet for workouts when teams were permitted to again gather in groups. Randolph said with team leadership from senior middle hitter Rachel Passalinqua, junior middle hitter Amaya Robinson and junior outside hitter Alexis Margolis, the team was productive in the sessions leading up to the start of the season.

“As soon as we were able to get in the gym, we did a lot of good work in building on the positives from last year,” Randolph said. “I also coach the (Gateway) guys in the spring, so I had both groups here at the same time. They’ve worked together since I took over both programs a couple years back. It gives the teams that family type feel, which is important, and it also brings out that competitiveness.”

Changes came down in the offseason as the Gators were bumped up to Class 4A. They are in Section 3 with Connellsville, Hempfield, Latrobe, Norwin, Oakland Catholic and Penn-Trafford.

Oakland Catholic ranked fifth in the first Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 4A poll released Sept. 14. The Eagles made the WPIAL quarterfinals last year.

Norwin was ranked ninth, and Hempfield 10th.

“With the core we returned, there isn’t an individual piece we are missing,” Randolph said.

“We have people who naturally and organically fit into the different spots we have.”

Passalinqua, a 5-foot-10 middle hitter, earned all-section honorable mention honors last season.

“Rachel leads by example on the court, and she is also a vocal and emotional leader for this team,” Randolph said. “She does a great job in helping put a lockdown block in place, and she provides very quick coverage play off the net as well.”

Passalinqua said she is is pleased to be able to compete after uncertainty over the status of the fall seasons prevailed for several weeks prior to the start of official practices Aug. 24.

“To have this season is such a blessing,” she said. “It could be really easy to get down about not having fans in the gym watching matches or not having the senior night we wanted, but we feel lucky to be able to play. There were those sports in the spring which didn’t even get to have a season.”

Sophomore Avrey Ferczak, Randolph said, continues to emerge as a stabilizing force at setter.

Randolph said he saw some good things from his team despite 3-0 section losses to Penn-Trafford and Latrobe to start the season.

Gateway led Penn-Trafford, 23-18, in the first game of their match, but the Warriors rallied to win the game 25-23, and went on to take the match.

“We were really playing well in that first game and doing all the things I knew we were capable of doing,” Randolph said.

“The problem, again, came down to finishing. The take away for me is we have to play to win rather than playing not to lose. That is hard sometimes to get that message across. I think we’ve been so close to turning the corner for so long that they don’t want to make a misstep. But sometimes you have to just put yourself out there. We’ve had some good discussions about that.”

Gateway was scheduled to face Connellsville last Thursday and Hempfield on Tuesday. Both matches were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

The Gators travel to Norwin on Thursday.

“The girls have been working really hard, and I am excited to see how they do now that we’ve moved up into Quad-A,” Randolph said.

“I know we probably will have some tough evenings, but we are out to prove we can work as hard as anyone else and hopefully make some noise.”

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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