Already this season Gateway girls basketball coach Cornelius Nesbit has seen more zone defenses than he has in the previous two years combined.
Without star player Destiny Brown, who has graduated and had been playing at Baylor University until leaving the team, WPIAL teams are preparing for the Gators differently.
The end results remain very similar, however.
Just like two years ago when Gateway went 15-9 and last season when it went 19-4, the Gators are once again one of the top teams in the WPIAL.
They are 8-2 through their first 10 games and 5-0 in first place in Section 2-AAAA after routing Fox Chapel, 47-26, Tuesday night in a showdown for the section lead.
Gateway owns non-section wins against New Castle and Pine-Richland. It played three section contests before Christmas, winning all three home games against Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and Plum. Being able to start section play with three home games allowed the new-look Gators to build confidence.
"We talk about making sure we win our home games," Nesbit said. "The schedule couldn't have worked out any better especially with just two [returning] starters, it put us in a great situation."
The highlight of the season so far was a two-day stretch when Gateway traveled to Upper St. Clair for a non-section contest before visiting section rival Franklin Regional. The Gators topped Upper St. Clair, 52-43, and turned around the next night to win, 65-44, at Franklin Regional.
"That was a good win for us," Nesbit said. "I told the kids, 'If you go to Franklin Regional and lose, then the win against Upper St. Clair means nothing.'"
Last season Gateway relied on Brown, a player who averaged 24 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals per game. She was a Sporting News All-American, first-team all-state selection and one of the most heavily recruited players in the country.
"We do some things differently with this group," Nesbit said. "With Destiny, you can pencil her in for 24, 25 a night. With this group we have a different leading scorer most nights."
Often times that leading scorer is senior guard Chelsea Richardson. Last season Richardson averaged 10 points per game. This year she is leading the team with 13.6 points per game. Other returning starters are senior forward Maria Taylor and junior guard/forward Katey Wilson.
Oakland Catholic transfer, junior guard Jada Epps, handles the point. Sophomore forward Morgan Hainsey also starts. Hainsey (5-11) and Taylor (6-0) are both averaging 10 points per game.
"We are seeing a ton of zone [defense]," Nesbit said. "We have four kids who can put the ball on the floor, so we become tough matchups if you go zone."
The first three players off the bench in Nesbit's eight-player rotation are sophomore guard London Wade, senior forward Veronica Kuster and senior guard Lauren Henderson.
"We are a little young but nothing has fazed us yet," Richardson said. "Everyone is working to know their role and be comfortable with it. We are meshing pretty well."
Gateway is holding teams to a section-best 39.4 points per game.
"Right now our defense seems to be pretty strong," Richardson said. "Our number one goal is to make sure they don't score. Our defense has been pretty successful."hsbasketball