When Gateway track coach Tom LaBuff looks at his boys team, he sees a ton of speed and talent.
What LaBuff doesn't see is numbers.
He's hoping the performances of his top athletes are enough to offset the team's lack of depth, thus carrying the Gators to another fine season.
Both the Gateway boys and girls teams are looking to defend section championships. Last season, both won Class AAA Section 5 titles and advanced to the WPIAL team tournament. The boys advanced to the four-team championship meet, while the girls were eliminated in the first round.
"The potential is there [to repeat as section champions]," LaBuff said. "Both teams have quite a number of elite athletes. It just depends on how we match up with other teams."
Individually, the boys team boasts a bevy of athletes who could push for not only WPIAL, but PIAA gold medals. The question is: Will it be enough to help the team? Fewer students came out for the team this season, so in some dual meets -- particularly against the better teams -- Gateway's lack of depth could become an issue.
"We're suspect because of our depth," LaBuff said, adding that he believes the group is built more for invitationals than dual meets.
Both teams were solid at last Saturday's Tri-State Track and Field Coaches Association championships at West Mifflin. Out of the 30 teams participating, the boys placed fifth and the girls ninth.
When it comes to the Gateway boys, the name of the game is speed, speed, speed. As is typically the case, the Gators have plenty of it. Seniors Cameron Gray and Jae'Len Means are two of the top sprinters in the WPIAL and senior Montae Nicholson is the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion and PIAA runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles.
Nicholson is familiar to many area sports fans because of his football talents. One of the most sought after recruits in the state, Nicholson will attend Michigan State. But football isn't the only sport Nicholson will play when he gets to East Lansing.
Track has long been a love of his, and among the reasons Nicholson chose Michigan State is because the football coaches are allowing him to participate in track, as well.
In Nicholson, Gateway has one of the premier hurdlers and long jumpers in the state. His winning time in the 110 hurdles at last year's WPIAL championships was a meet record. He also placed third in the long jump at both the WPIAL and PIAA championships, and helped Gateway's 400 relay team grab gold medals in both meets.
Nicholson, whose mother, Jackie Crawford, is the school's hurdling coach, won the 110 hurdles, long jump and was part of the victorious 400 relay at the TSTCA championships.
"He really loves the hurdles," LaBuff said. "His mom has a track background and he shares that passion. He runs the third leg in the 4-by-100. He's as fast as anybody we have, and we have two of the other fastest kids in the state. He doesn't particularly like to jump, but he's very good at it. I think he loves to compete. He hates to get beat."
As for Gateway's other top-notch speedsters, Gray placed fourth in the 100 and Means second in the 200 at least year's WPIAL championships. Those two, along with Nicholson and senior Kevin Jeter, make up a 400 relay team that LaBuff said could be better than a year ago despite the loss of Julius Rivera, last season's WPIAL and PIAA 100-meter champion.
Another of the team's stars is senior Joe Robak, who could contend for shot put and discus titles.
On the girls side, the key names to know are sophomore Aiyanna Crawford, senior Jahniah McAllister, senior Aneia Dutrieulle and senior Emily Stevens. Crawford's top events are the 400 and 800, McAllister the 100 hurdles, Dutrieulle the 400, and Stevens the long jump and high jump.
Last summer, Crawford won the gold medal in the 800 in her age group at the USATF National Junior Olympics.
"She's not a pure sprinter, but she's our fastest kid. She's just special," LaBuff said.