On Friday, Toll Gate and Warwick Vets will travel to Pilgrim for a girls’ volleyball Injury Fund event.
In the past, the event was pretty much the height of Warwick volleyball rivalries, the only chance for the three teams to play each other.
This year, it’s just the beginning.
For the first time since 2004, the three Warwick public schools all have their girls’ volleyball programs in the same division. They’ll be city rivals and rivals in Division II-South.
“It’ll be nice for the girls,” said Toll Gate head coach Andrew Bevilacqua. “The Injury Fund was it last year and we didn’t see them again. This year, we’ve got the Injury Fund and a home-and-home so we’ll all see each other three times.”
Pilgrim and Warwick Vets have developed a budding rivalry the last few years, after Pilgrim moved to Division II in 2009. Toll Gate will join the fray this year after a welcome move down. The Titans won one match in its last three years in Division I.
The last time all the teams were together was in the spring of 2004, before girls’ volleyball moved to the fall season later that year. Back then, the three programs were all in Class A, the equivalent of Division I.
Toll Gate was a powerhouse, having won its 14th state title in 2001, and Pilgrim was consistently competitive. Vets started to struggle, though, and after an 0-10 season in 2004, it moved to Division II for the fall.
Toll Gate and Pilgrim remained competitive for several years, but eventually followed the same path. The Patriots had consecutive two-win seasons before their move in 2009. Toll Gate woke up the echoes from its glory days with a 15-3 season in 2007 but couldn’t keep up with the state’s best for much longer. The last three years were a challenge.
Similar processes have happened in several sports as enrollment declines. Girls’ soccer will have the same set-up as volleyball, after Pilgrim moved to Division II several years ago, Vets moved last year and Toll Gate came down this year.
While it can be disheartening for programs that were once powerhouses, the moves tend to be positive in the current landscape, and the rekindled rivalries are no small part of that.
“It’s on our home court and they're just excited to play the other teams,” said Pilgrim coach Kelly Harrington, a former Toll Gate coach. “Especially Toll Gate. I have a history with Toll Gate and I know those girls. It’s exciting.”
The rivalries will be most welcomed at Toll Gate, where the Titans haven’t had many matches to circle on their calendar the last few years, apart from ones they thought they might be able to win. Now, Toll Gate will visit Pilgrim in the third match of the season, before hosting Warwick Vets a week later.
“I had the girls fill out individual and team goals, and on the team goals, all of them wrote that they wanted to be the best team in Warwick,” Bevilacqua said. “That’s something they’d be really proud of.”
The teams all figure to be in the playoff mix, too, which will give the rivalries a little extra juice. The Titans are optimistic after the move, Pilgrim is coming off a winning season and Vets is hoping to regroup after two straight tough years.
They’ll be contending – and doing it together.
“That’s exciting, having us all in the same division,” Harrington said. “We’re looking forward to playing the local teams. I think they're going to be good matches.”