Gateway jelling at right time

The Gateway girls' soccer team poses with the championship plaque after winning the South Jersey Group 1 title on Thursday. (MARC NARDUCCI / Staff)
The Gateway girls' soccer team poses with the championship plaque after winning the South Jersey Group 1 title on Thursday. (MARC NARDUCCI / Staff)
Posted: November 18, 2013

The postseason in any sport is more than just about the results, although that is obviously what drives the enthusiasm that permeates entire towns.

The Gateway girls' soccer team is the latest to feel the euphoria, which has traveled well beyond the field.

Gateway earned the South Jersey Group 1 title with Thursday's penalty-kick win over Haddon Township. The teams played to a scoreless draw through 100 minutes of regulation and overtime, and Gateway sophomore MacKell Schultes settled matters by scoring the winning penalty kick to give the Gators a 3-2 margin.

"I was as nervous as I have ever been," she said moments afterward.

It didn't appear that way.

Schultes and her teammates were also basking in the glow and able to share it with many members of the community.

"Without our fans, I don't think we would have won," she said. "They motivated us."

Gateway draws students from four boroughs: Westville, Wenonah, Woodbury Heights, and National Park.

So when the youngsters arrive at high school, there is an interesting dynamic in watching the various sports teams begin to mesh.

"Many of them come here from other towns and were rivals, and now they are teammates," second-year Gateway coach Shawn Cunning said. "It's great how they come together."

This group came together by winning one big game after another. The Gators were seeded just sixth in South Jersey Group 1, which proved to be wide open.

To win the championship, they had to outlast Colonial Conference rival Haddon Township, the No. 4 seed, in the third matchup between the two this season. The first two were split, both 1-0 scores, so little separated these two.

And to show how difficult things are in the Colonial, neither team won the Patriot Division title. That went to Audubon, which beat Gateway twice in the regular season, both by 3-2 scores.

"I think everybody thought Audubon would beat us a third time, said Gateway forward Kelly Diehle, who puts constant pressure on opposing defenders with her ability to break them down.

Gateway didn't worry about the prevailing opinion.

The Gators knocked Audubon out of the tournament with a 1-0, second-round win over the third-seeded Green Wave and then beat another recent nemesis, seventh-seeded Glassboro, 3-0, in a semifinal.

As it goes with the postseason, a team often gets confidence with each win, and that has happened with the Gators.

And their school has caught the fever.

"It's the support we have gotten that has helped keep us going," Diehle said.

It helps to have a strong goalkeeper in the tournament, and junior Antonia Pote has been off the charts. She stopped three shots in the penalty-kick segment.

"I had never been in a situation like this before," she said.

Pote had been a field player the last few years, but Gateway needed a keeper and she volunteered. She had played in goal before coming to high school.

"She was an outstanding field player," Cunning said.

And?

"She has been terrific in goal, and she deserves all the credit with how hard she has worked," he added.

So it has all come together at the right time, and that is what championship teams need. The Gators have used clutch plays and fed off their passionate fans.

Gateway is two wins away from earning a state title. Regardless of how the Gators fare from here, this is the type of ride the players will always remember.

Championships are so special. To be able to share these moments with so many captivated fans has added an extra element to this impressive Gateway postseason run.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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