Sunday August 14, 2022 | 11:01 a.m.
There’s a kind of reunion that’s going on as part of the Gateway varsity women’s volleyball program.
New head coach Nicole Riley knows many of the team members who coached them and formed a relationship with them at the college level.
Now the task ahead as pre-season training begins ahead of the 2022 season is for Riley and her assistants to put the pieces in place for what she hopes will be a turnaround from recent struggles on the pitch.
“I’m excited to kick this off and help build this team,” said Riley, who was due to meet the team for the first time on Monday after being officially hired a few weeks ago.
She succeeds Kayla Taylor who did not return after one season with the team. The position was opened and made available at the end of June.
“I know there are some really talented players who are ready to succeed. We have several crucial days of work ahead of us,” Riley said.
Riley said that while she hadn’t worked with the players in person until now, she knew they weren’t going into cold workouts, as many of them participated in open gyms with the men’s team throughout the summer.
“A lot of the girls are also involved in club teams, so it will be really good to see how they have matured since I had them in college,” Riley said.
Eight seniors – including 3-4A Section stars Lexi Margolis, Sarah Porter and Amaya Robinson – left last year’s squad that went 2-10 in a bumpy 3-4A Section against playoff likes Oakland Catholic, Penn-Trafford, Latrobe and Hempfield.
Gateway is moving to Class 3A under the new two-year realignment and will face Hampton, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum, West Mifflin and Woodland Hills.
Hampton fell to Freeport in last year’s WPIAL Class 3A title match after rallying to Plum in the semi-finals.
Riley graduated from the old Langley High School and played on the varsity volleyball team.
She attended Penn State and played at the club level and also taught a volleyball class as part of her student teaching process.
After teaching in Maryland for a year, she came to Gateway, and this year she celebrates 25 years of service in the district.
Riley coached volleyball as an assistant at the college level for a year, then later returned to the coaching ranks after a hiatus. She has since been a staple of the sport with the Gators.
A physical education teacher and college athletics coordinator, Riley has been the head coach of women’s college volleyball for the past 11 years.
The team plays in the winter after the college boys’ basketball team season ends, and the season runs from late January through March.
Last spring, Riley added to her coaching duties as the Gateway Boys’ junior head coach and varsity assistant to coach Phil Randolph.
“I loved working with Phil and the men’s team,” Riley said. “I learned so much and also got to talk about some things I had done with the girls in middle school. It was quite an interesting experience because with boys’ volleyball it’s more physical There were also different styles and approaches to officiating.College volleyball is so fast compared to the college level.
“With college volleyball, I try to build the program, so I try to play with all the players I can and give them the experience they need to develop their skills. At the college level, it’s more down to their skills and what they can do for the team by putting the best group on the pitch to win games.
Randolph said he was confident Riley would do well as a varsity girls coach.
“I also coached Nicole at the college level, and knowing what she put into that program there, how much she cares about the girls and what she gives to that district as a whole, I know that everyone is thrilled to have her now in this position,” Randolph said. , they’re really ready to go out there and have a great season.”
Riley said despite taking on extra duties this fall, she still plans to lead the girls’ middle school team and return as the boys’ varsity assistant in the spring.
She will also continue as a college sports coordinator.
“I had spoken with (athletic director) Don Holl about continuing with that while also focusing on the high school team,” Riley said.
“Fall is the busy season in college with football, cross country and soccer.”
Riley said she hopes to be a stabilizing force for the varsity girls program for years to come.
“I don’t see myself going anywhere,” she said.
“I’ve loved volleyball all my life and I love Gateway. I look forward to working with the program and letting it realize its full potential.