The Warwick Vets field hockey team is zeroing in on its next five games and viewing them as crucial in its quest for a playoff spot. But before they got too carried away with the future, the Hurricanes put a nice feather in their cap for the second straight week on Monday.
After beating cross-town rival Pilgrim last week in non-league action, Vets visited Toll Gate on Monday and picked up another rivalry victory in a 4-0 decision.
“It’s big to them and it’s big to me,” said Vets head coach Jim Areson. “Technically, we’re city champs today. Who knows what’s going to happen, so you’ve got to enjoy it. They played really well against Pilgrim and they played well again today.”
Vets improved to 2-1-1 in league play with the victory, while Toll Gate fell to 0-4.
For Vets, the season has been a little up-and-down thus far. The ’Canes beat Cranston East in the season opener, tied Chariho, beat Pilgrim in the non-league game and lost a frustrating game to Rocky Hill last Wednesday.
“It’s only our fourth game and we’re getting better,” Areson said. “We’re only going to get better.”
Against the Titans, the ’Canes completely controlled possession but couldn’t capitalize on it for most of the first half. Toll Gate goalie Shanelle Lawson held her line with solid defense by Brittney Ayotte, Cassondra Messier and Victoria Nelson. Vets came up empty on seven penalty corners.
But the eighth corner was a charm. With five minutes left in the first half, Savannah Hersey received the corner pass on the right side and played the ball toward the cage. It bounced around until Lexi Santos-Smith tipped it in for the 1-0 lead.
That was the halftime score, but it didn’t stay that way for long after the break. Toll Gate made its first real push of the game off the opening whistle but couldn’t get a shot on its first penalty corner.
Soon after, eight minutes into the half, the ’Canes hit their stride. On the third of three consecutive corners, Hersey put a shot on net that skipped to Smith on the left post. She tucked it in for her second goal of the game and a 2-0 Vets lead.
Four minutes later, Megan Lemay pushed in a rebound of a Hersey shot to make it 3-0. Four minutes after that, Lemay scored again, this time dodging past Lawson and slipping a shot into the cage.
“We played better in the second half,” Areson said. “Savannah Hersey dominated. She’s probably the best player in the city right now, I would say. It all started with her. Megan Lemay, the last goal she scored was just phenomenal.”
Hersey, a junior, controlled possession herself for much of the game and generated chances with an aerial pass on free hits, as opposed to the usual ground balls.
“She can do things a lot of players in this division can’t do, like the aerial ball,” Areson said. “It makes the little things easier, allows us to create some space. She had three assists today.”
Toll Gate made a few runs late in the game. Vets sweeper Arietta Chevian stopped a breakaway by Kelsey Holmes with six minutes to go. Later, Holmes got a look in the circle, but backup goalie Kayla Morin made the save. Morin and starter Naomi Franzen combined on the shutout.
“We played well,” Areson said. “We lost to Rocky Hill last week and that was kind of a bummer. They came out and played well today. Winning makes everything easier – makes going to practice easier, makes dealing with me easier. Hopefully we continue on.”
For Toll Gate, the early-season struggles were not unexpected. Lawson, the goalie, is the team’s only senior, and the few returning starters are as young as many of the lineup’s newcomers.
“Our midfield needs work,” coach Leila Connolly said. “Young players, getting used to the rules. We’ve definitely seen a progression of skills and endurance.”
Lawson has been a bright spot in net.
“She’s our only senior and she’s our captain,” Connolly said. “She does a great job.”
The Titans will look for continued improvement as the season gets into full swing.
Vets is looking for improvement, too, but also has its sights set on the playoffs. The next five games will say a lot on that front as Vets goes against the teams in Division II-North, which is shaping up as the tougher of the league’s two sub-divisions.
“Next week is huge. I think the other division is very good,” Areson said. “It’ll be a good test to see where we are, see what we have to work on. If we win Thursday and maybe take a couple of points next week, I’ll be ecstatic. We’ll be in real good position to make the playoffs if we can do that.”
The ’Canes host Smithfield today at 3:45 p.m.