Gateway High School girls soccer coach Kevin Sanders knew very well that defending the section title this season would be difficult.
For starters, the Gators had to replace Carly Seneca, a four-year starter, four-time All-WPIAL selection and three-time all-state selection.
The challenge to repeat as Class AAA Section 3 champions grew even more difficult after last Thursday night when Gateway was blanked, 4-0, by Fox Chapel Area. The loss snapped Gateway's 17-match section unbeaten streak.
"I told our kids after the [Fox Chapel] game, every game is its own game," second-year coach Kevin Sanders said. "Our big thing right now is getting more consistent, we need to play more consistently."
Through eight games Gateway was 4-4 overall, 4-2 in section play after a 1-0 loss to Plum Monday. It shut out Woodland Hills, Penn Hills and Allderdice in section play and defeated another section foe, Oakland Catholic, 5-2. The Gators were scheduled to play Woodland Hills Wednesday.
"We are getting a lot of teams' hardest punch," Sanders said. "The games are a little more physical."
Seneca led the Gators in scoring as a sophomore, junior and senior, tallying 66 goals and 46 assists over here career. While her scoring has been tough to replace, there are plenty of intangibles that she brought to the team that need to be replaced as well.
"Our Achilles' heel is our intensity," Sanders said. "We need that overall intensity -- even at practice -- that is needed to be a semifinal or final type of team. That is the thing we lost the most from Carly besides what she brought to the field -- that natural intensity.
"As a coach you can keep gearing it up, but at some point a player has to have that adrenaline that gets everyone going. Carly made everyone accountable just by being there."
Gateway finished 16-5-1 last season and reached the WPIAL semifinals where it fell to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Peters Township. It was the first WPIAL semifinal trip in program history.
The cupboard is hardly bare for the Gators with eight returning starters, including senior forwards Emily Stevens and Hannah Feinberg, senior defenders Hanna Crable and Cara Finoli, senior goalkeeper Allie Warsaw, junior forward Maggie Hilton and sophomore forward Kayla Trozzi.
Stevens, Feinberg, Crable, Finoli, Warsaw, Hilton and Trozzi have all received playing time since they were freshmen.
"We have talent and we have some young players mixed in with some of the older kids, so we have had some growing pains," Sanders said. "We've made some mistakes, but the kids are getting more and more used to each other."
Sanders said the vocal leadership role that Seneca brought to the team is slowly being replaced by Warsaw, the team's goalie.
Offensively, Hilton and Stevens are the top returning goal scorers. Hilton had 13 goals and15 assists last season and Stevens totaled 10 goals and 10 assists. Through eight games Hilton, Stevens and Feinberg were tied for the team lead with three goals each.