With Warwick Vets joining Pilgrim in Division II this season, Toll Gate is now the only Warwick public schools team – boys’ or girls’ – playing Division I soccer.
And the Titans aren’t going anywhere.
On the heels of a solid season that included a playoff berth, the Titans have good numbers and a strong nucleus for the 2013 season. They’re ready for more.
“I’ve got a good core group coming back and some good additions,” said head coach Lonna Razza. “We’ve got some good freshmen, and some of the sophomores who played JV last year have stepped up. I think it’s going to be a pretty good year.”
The Titans went 5-8-1 last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Barrington. Despite the early exit, the playoff appearance marked a return to the postseason after a two-year drought.
The Titans lost some key players to graduation from that team, including all-division goalie Meg McNulty and standout midfielders Shannon Garvey, Emily Fox and Karina Santos, but there’s plenty of optimism for a playoff return.
“We lost some good players, but these kids have been stepping up during the preseason,” Razza said. “They’ve been playing hard.”
The Titans have 23 players on the roster, and all 23 could contribute. Seven seniors are leading the way, with Tori Bucci, Laura McGuire and Emily Waggoner serving as captains. McGuire is the most experienced of that bunch and will return to the sweeper position, where she was an all-division pick last season. Jaime Given, Kathleen Morlock, Briana Sousa and Taylor Venter are the other seniors.
Several juniors will also play big roles, led by forward Courtney Crowley and midfielder Nicole Patricio. Crowley has been a starter since her freshman year and is the Titans’ top scoring threat. Patricio was a full-time starter last year, as a sophomore.
“We have some good veterans back,” Razza said.
The junior class also includes goalie Amber Francois, who is set to take over for McNulty. Though this will be her first year as the Toll Gate starter, she’s an experienced goalie.
“She’s got big shoes to fill but I think she can do it,” Razza said. “She’s been training since she was a kid and she’s shown improvement every year. I’m feeling pretty confident with her back there.”
Juniors Jordan Inkley, Grace McGrath, Katie Niles, Haley Rouleau and April Wolstenholme are pushing for time at various spots, as is junior Kyleigh Maletesta, a transfer from three-time defending Division II champion Exeter/West Greenwich.
Sophomore Heather Allstrom is back on defense after playing a lot as a freshman, and sophomores Morgan Candon, Libby Costello and Sarah Lavalley are also in the fold. The Titans may also get contributions from freshmen Lily Fortin, Marisa Giard and Hannah McNulty.
Last Wednesday, the Titans got a taste of good competition in the annual Warwick Vets Fall Soccer Tournament. They beat Warwick Vets 3-1 in their opener, rallying from a 1-0 deficit on two goals by Crowley and one by Patricio.
Pilgrim edged the Titans in a shoot-out for the championship, after a problem with the lights forced the game to move to a shootout after just one half.
It was still a strong showing for the Titans, and the first game was a sign of what Razza hopes will be a major point of improvement.
“Scoring three goals in the first game was big,” Razza said. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen a three on the board. I think we’re definitely going to have that offense this year. We’re going to generate more with some of the kids we have.”
Coupled with a solid defense and a goalie who’s ready to go, the Titans are in position to hold steady.
“All in all, these kids have been busting their butts since last Monday,” Razza said. “It looks like we could be alright. As long as they start jelling together and making plays happen, we’ll do alright.”