Loaded Gateway girls roster out to right last season’s wrongs

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Sunday, December 1, 2019 | 12:01 AM


The Gateway girls basketball team’s 2018-19 season was over in a flash.

The Gators, who totaled 19 wins and won their first section title in coach Curtis Williams’ tenure, earning them a first-round bye, had their WPIAL championship-defending journey halted after one playoff game.

After they made some early mistakes in a WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals matchup against No. 6 Thomas Jefferson in February, which saw the Jaguars upend third-seeded Gateway, 79-52, Lexi Jackson could not believe what occured.

“I was so ready for the game and when we came out, I think we missed four back-to-back shots off of the tipoff. I knew it was going to be a long day, but it went by so fast,” the senior center said. “It felt like it wasn’t acutally happening.”

Despite the early exit, the Gators had a season to remember.

The team finished 11-1 in Section 2-5A, losing just four games throughout the season. They also were the sixth-best defense in 5A at season’s end, allowing 43 points per game, all with two seniors and five upperclassmen on an 18-person roster.

In his fifth year at Gateway, Williams is keeping lofty prospects for his team two seasons after winning a WPIAL championship.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Williams said. “Last year was a successful season in some spots, but it was disappointing (to lose in the quarterfinals a season after winning the championship).

“Our expectations are to take the next step forward and not be happy with just making the playoffs, but win multiple playoff games and compete for a WPIAL title.”

The Gators are returning three starters — Jackson, Dynasty Shegog and Alexis Margolis — but also lost two starters to graduation — Jenna Guido and Mary Kromka.

Jackson, a Kent State commit, averaged a double-double last season with 16.3 points and 18 rebounds along with seven blocks per game.

With great success comes great responsibility, and that is what Williams is looking for from Jackson.

“I’d like her to be more of a vocal leader and do what (the team) needs her to do,” he said. “Being greedy as a coach, I would expect her to average a triple-double (in points, rebounds and blocks). If we could get double digits (in those categories), we would be in a great place from there.

“I’m asking for a lot from her. She’s a (Division I) commit, and she can shoulder the weight.”

Jackson does not shy away from needing to lead her to teammates in forming a more congealed unit.

“The year we won (the WPIAL title), the team had a really strong bond. This year we need to play together,” the 6-foot-3 standout said. “If we play together, execute and play good defense, we will be good for this year.

“For myself, I want to get every rebound, block shots, play big down low and help my teammates with that.”

Shegog has Division I potential in the eyes of Williams as she has already received some attention from schools. He also believes Margolis could do the same.

Shegog averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season, and Margolis recorded 6.3 points and 4.5 assists per game.

“(Shegog) needs to establish more consistency,” he said. “Her and Jackson need to lead the team. She’s more than capable.”

“(Margolis) needs to mature to help us because she has the same potential as Jackson and Shegog.”

Williams plans to have some unfamiliar faces become factors on the court as well.

“We still have several other players that were on the roster last year who played some meaningful minutes,” he said. “(Forward) Annie Garness, who is a senior now, was part of the championship run a couple years ago, so we have some players returning that should take bigger roles to help us this year.”

The Gators will also receive aid in the form of a transfer.

Jiahna Bracy, a 6-1 senior forward, spent the past three seasons with East Allegheny before relocating to Gateway this school year. She was ruled eligible by WPIAL officials for the regular season and playoffs last June.

Freshmen Jayla Oliver and Marina Grado may also have some time on the varsity court this season.

“Bracy is a post player who should get some quality minutes for us,” Williams said. “(Jayla and Marina) are two freshmen who look like they have potential.”

Robert Scott III is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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