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Gateway girls soccer team sets goal of reaching WPIAL playoffs

September 16, 2018
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Brie Key, junior, works on drills with members of the Gateway girl's soccer team during regular practice on Tuesday, August 21. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review

The Gateway girls soccer team didn’t win a section game last year. The Gators finished in last place in Section 1-3A.

The Gators, coach Kelly Bender said, were a work in progress as the mostly youthful team experienced growing pains after a large group of seniors moved on from the season before.

But despite the shortcomings in the section standings, Bender said she noticed a great deal of improvement. The team, she said, came together throughout the fall and put up stiffer challenges as the campaign drew to a close.

Now, with 10 letter winners back and younger talent ready to make their mark, Bender says this year’s Gateway squad can make some noise and challenge for a return to the WPIAL playoffs.

“Last year was definitely a rebuilding year,” Bender said. “We took the whole first half of the season working together as a team, gaining experience with the younger players.”

The Gators, 0-7-3 in section and 5-10-3 overall in 2017, tied Hampton and Franklin Regional, both playoff squads, in the second half of section play and also produced a 4-0 nonsection shutout of Greensburg Salem. Bender said she also noticed the improvement in a 2-0 loss to undefeated section champion Mars after the Planets dealt the Gators an 8-0 setback in the first meeting.

“We really showed our potential in those games,” Bender said. “We didn’t get a section win or get as many wins overall as we had hoped, but we showed what kind of team we could be. The girls gained the confidence and experience. That’s what we took with us into this season.”

Franklin Regional, Mars, Hampton, Knoch and Indiana return to the section, and Gateway also will face Armstrong and former section rival Kiski Area this year.

“I was excited to get started with (preseason) camp,” said senior forward Olivia Wood, an all-section performer last year and one of three team captains with fellow seniors Jenna Guido and Grace Hansmann.

“We really want to make the playoffs this year, especially me and the other seniors as it is our last year. We have a strong team that we think is good enough to get into the playoffs from the section.”

Bender said the first couple weeks of practices were productive and encouraging.

“I love this team. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into the preseason, what their spirits would be, what their confidence level would be. But they came in and proved to be a hungry team,” she said.

“We have a lot of depth that we didn’t necessarily have in past years. We have a great leadership group as far as our seniors that lead by example, their work ethic and their play. We also have solid juniors who are ready to lead. I think we are going to surprise some teams with what we have, especially coming off the season we had as the underdogs.”

Bender said the team features strength and leadership throughout the entire field.

Maddy Neundorfer, a junior, is back in goal after joining Wood on the Section 1 all-star team last year.

Junior Brie Key also returns to help lead the defensive corps, and junior Becca Kubler scored six goals last year, the most of any returning player.

“It’s exciting to see what we’ve worked on, such as touch and possession, play out on the field in game situations,” Bender said.

Gateway hosted a pair of scrimmages against Elizabeth Forward and Fox Chapel, and Bender said both were great measuring sticks to test the progression of the team.

The Gators begin the season Saturday at home against Latrobe at 11:15 a.m. Then it’s right into the section slate as Mars pays a visit to Antimarino Stadium at 7:15 p.m. Sept. 5.

“Hopefully, we can make a charge to a playoff spot,” Bender said. “That is a very reasonable goal for us.”

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