For the first time in quite awhile, life is good for the Toll Gate boys’ tennis team.
The Titans are currently 2-1, and have more wins already than they had in each of the last two full regular seasons, combined. They have a young, yet experienced group that has depth up and down the lineup.
But the biggest difference is where Toll Gate is playing. Out of place the last two years in Division I, the Titans went a combined 1-31. Now they’ve moved back down to Division II, and it’s made a world of difference.
Toll Gate is back where it belongs, and tennis is enjoyable once again.
“It’s a lot more fun,” said second-year head coach Tamra Gallo during Toll Gate’s match with Tolman on Tuesday. “This is the best match we’ve had since I’ve been coaching.”
The Titans ended up with a 5-2 victory over Tolman, their second straight victory. Toll Gate beat East Providence 7-0 on Friday. The Titans did lose 7-0 to Prout in their first match of the season last Thursday, but since then there have been nothing but positives.
“We’ve got a tight squad,” Gallo said. “Small squad, but they play a lot on their own so they’ve gotten significantly better than last year. I’m excited.”
The last time Toll Gate was in Division II, it had a run as the best team in the league. In 2007 and 2008, the Titans won the D-II title, before stumbling to a combined 7-25 record the next two years. Yet, they still moved up after the 2010 season and weren’t built to compete in the state’s highest division.
Rhode Island Interscholastic League realignment sent them back down this season along with Mount St. Charles, while Ponaganset, D-II champ Cranston West and D-II runner-up East Greenwich moved up to D-I.
That leaves a wide-open Division II, with Toll Gate excited to be in the mix.
“We have a very young team,” Gallo said. “We got moved from Division I to Division II, which is a fabulous move for us. It’s going to be a much more competitive division for our guys.”
The Titans graduated just one key contributor off last year’s team, singles player Ricky Weeden. Other than that, Toll Gate has some of its top players back in the fold.
Leading the way is senior Justin Allen, who played No. 1 singles last year and is back to reprise that role this season. He is only 1-2 on the season, as he lost a tough three-set match on Monday, but he should be a competitive No. 1 all season.
“He’s a strong player,” Gallo said. “His serve has improved tremendously from last year. And he’s gotten much more consistent.”
The next three singles spots are occupied by a trio of sophomore doubles players from year ago. At No. 2 is Brandyn Garrahy, who has made tremendous strides since his freshman campaign.
“He’s great,” Gallo said. “He’s ridiculously improved. He plays all the time.”
In the No. 3 spot is Dan Smith, while Hunter Heberg is playing No. 4. Smith won on Tuesday and is 2-1 on the season, while Heberg suffered a loss. The two of them, Garrahy and a member of the top doubles team – junior Jeremy Cullen – all played together in the off-season, and it’s paying big-time dividends.
Joining Cullen on that first doubles team is freshman Nick Mattioli, who has stepped right into the lineup without an issue. That team won in straight sets against Tolman.
The No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams picked up wins as well, and they’re both 2-1 on the year. At No. 2, freshman Duncan Hart and Nick Czabanowski – who played doubles last year – are holding strong, while juniors Can Yavas and Kyle Gray, each of whom played last season, are also playing well.
Toll Gate is excited to see where it can go. Without having seen much of the division, it’s hard to predict exactly where it will fit in, but it’s already been a better season than the last few.
“We haven’t seen enough of the division to make a call,” Gallo said. “It’s really early, but we’ll see.”
The Titans’ next match is today at home against Middletown at 3:45 p.m. Middletown was 2-0 as of Wednesday, and hadn’t yet lost an individual match.