Gateway volleyball makes smooth transition to new head coach

·4 min read

Sep. 4—There weren't many introductions needed when Nicole Riley met her Gateway girls volleyball players on the first day of preseason camp Aug. 15.

As the Gators middle school coach for a number of seasons, Riley had coached all but two members of this year's team.

The familiarity was there, and senior setter Avrey Ferczak said the team made positive strides because of it.

"It's been great. We can really tell how much we've improved over last year," she said.

"The transition to coach Riley was way smooth with knowing what she is like as a coach and what she expected out of us. We have really come together as a team in these practices, and I think we can have a pretty good season."

Riley, a physical education teacher and coordinator of athletics at the middle school, said the girls were amped up and ready to go from Day 1.

"Everyone was excited to have a familiar face in place and to hopefully establish some consistency," she said.

"The girls went right to work the first day. We had the open gym the first two days and then tryouts. The girls worked really hard, and they were competitive.

Eight seniors — including Section 3-4A all-stars Lexi Margolis, Sarah Porter and Amaya Robinson — moved on from last year's team which went 2-10 in a rugged Section 3-4A against the likes of playoff qualifiers Oakland Catholic, Penn-Trafford, Latrobe and Hempfield.

Under the offseason realignment for the next two seasons, Gateway dropped down to Class 3A and will take on a number of local foes in Section 1.

That includes 2021 WPIAL and PIAA runner-up Hampton and WPIAL semifinalist Plum, as well as Penn Hills, McKeesport, West Mifflin and Woodland Hills.

"There is a coaches poll that comes out each week, and Gateway wasn't mentioned in the top 10," Riley said.

"But I think we can surprise some people. The girls know the section is a challenge, but they will be ready for it."

Because of the coaching transition over the summer, Gateway didn't have any scrimmages or early-season nonsection matches, so after several weeks of team practices in the gym at Gateway's Furrie Sports Complex, Riley said the team was ready to see a different set of faces across the net.

The Gators were to open section play and the season overall Tuesday at home against Woodland Hills.

"I wish we would've had at least one scrimmage to see where we were at and how much we progressed," senior defensive specialist Taylor Bumbaugh said.

"But I am confident that we will be ready to start the season."

Gateway visits West Mifflin on Thursday, hosts Plum next Tuesday, and matches up with Penn Hills on Sept. 8 before playing at the annual Plum Invitational on Sept. 15.

Twenty-six players are on the roster for the 2022 season, and that includes leadership from seven seniors overall.

Ferczak and Bumbaugh return after starting last season, and they are joined by other returning starters who include senior Becky George (outside hitter), sophomore setter Jolina Estremera and junior outside hitter Alice Childs.

"We're just so eager to start playing and hopefully see the hard work pay off," George said.

"With the new coach and the way the team has come together, we have set high expectations for ourselves. We want to get to the playoffs."

Gateway hasn't made the playoffs since 2017 when it finished third in Section 1-3A behind co-champions Indiana and Greensburg Salem.

There are four juniors on the roster, and this year's sophomore class is big with 11 members.

"The team definitely is getting better, from the seniors on down," Bumbaugh said.

"Normally, varsity and JV can be kind of separate, but our JV and varsity is very close this year. We're pushing each other and motivating each other to improve."

Riley said the four freshmen on this year's team are holding their own, and she's excited to see how much they've improved, including the execution of skills, in the short time since middle school.

"I feel a lot of girls can and will contribute in varsity matches," Riley said. "They've been working so hard to get ready for the season, and now the season is here. We're ready to show people what we can do."

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