Since picking up its first win of the season on Sept. 23, the Toll Gate volleyball has been on the verge of a few more victories. In five of their next six matches, the Titans pushed teams to four or five games before bowing out.
Unfortunately for the Titans, the positive trend did not continue Tuesday night. Hosting a Prout team that’s only two spots ahead of them in the standings, the Titans let errors mount and couldn’t stop a powerful attack in a 3-0 loss. Prout won 25-11, 25-19 and 25-12.
“We had the long weekend off,” said head coach Andrew Bevilacqua. “We did a little outdoor practice Monday but it’s not the same as being in the gym. I just don’t think their heads were in it tonight. There was a lack of communication between everybody, a lot of mistakes, missing serves, hitting balls into the net. It just wasn’t there.”
It’s still been a more positive season than the last two for the Titans, who have been competitive every step of the way. Tuesday was just a missed opportunity for another positive step. The Titans pushed Prout to four games early in the season. They’ve improved by leaps and bounds since then, but couldn’t pull off the same trick this time.
Toll Gate took a 5-3 lead in game one, but the Crusaders responded with seven consecutive points and barely trailed for the rest of the night. Prout finished game one by winning nine of 11 points. Included in that stretch were six Titans’ errors, something that can’t happen for a team trying to spring an upset.
“Our goal is to keep balls alive, keep them in play and make the other team make the mistakes,” Bevilacqua said.
The trend continued in game two, as the Crusaders jumped in front 10-4 and later won seven of eight points to go up 18-8. Olivia Hurst finished that run with two aces.
Trailing 20-9, the Titans finally started to deliver a more typical performance. Sparked by a Kelsey Kurbiec kill, the Titans won 10 of the next 12 points to get themselves right back into the game. Kurbiec added a block and another kill, Courtney Marsh delivered a kill, Lexi Hassell served up an ace and Jamie Hopgood pounded a kill.
The run made it 22-19.
“I thought in the second game, we made a nice little run,” Bevilacqua said. “That’s the way we’ve been playing.”
But the Titans couldn’t get any closer. Hassell, the starting setter, aggravated a thumb injury when she tried to dig a hard hit on the next point. Prout won the point and Hassell headed to the bench. On the next point, a Toll Gate return hit the ceiling and the Titans couldn’t play it, giving Prout game point. The Titans then couldn’t return the serve and Prout won 25-19.
In game three, Toll Gate never recaptured its form. Prout won six points in a row early in the game to go up 9-4. Later, a string of Toll Gate errors led to seven straight Prout points. The Crusaders ended the 25-12 victory with a Hirst ace.
“I was hoping we would take the momentum into game three, but they kind of came out flat,” Bevilacqua said.
The loss dropped Toll Gate to 1-11. Despite the loss – and the record – the Titans have clearly taken a step forward this season.
“We’ve played well,” Bevilacqua said. “We took South Kingstown to five, we took La Salle to five. Classical swept us but we played better. I didn’t expect to win a lot of games this year. I expected us to just be a competitive team, build up the girls’ confidence, and I think we’ve done that.”
The Titans are out of playoff contention but they’ll be looking for a strong finish nonetheless. They’ll play Narragansett – the top team in Division II – in a non-league game tonight before finishing the season with Coventry, Chariho, South Kingstown and North Kingstown.
“We know Narragansett is the top Division II team and we want to see where we would stand with Division II,” Bevilacqua said. “We’ve got Coventry, Chariho, North Kingstown, South Kingstown. We see South Kingstown as a winnable match-up and we just want to be competitive. We want to keep them focused and staying enthused about the games.”