Division I isn’t always the best place for a team to develop its skills, and the Toll Gate girls’ volleyball team learned that the hard way last fall.
The Titans were a team that had undergone a lot of change, with a new coach and the graduation of most of the contributors from the previous year’s team. It showed, as Toll Gate ended its season at 0-14.
Again this year, there will likely be some growing pains, as Toll Gate graduated its top player from a season ago and a few more core players. It also was a candidate to move down to Division II as part of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s realignment, but that never came to fruition.
The end result is a host of new players to the varsity team, along with a few returners, and some relatively tempered expectations. The Titans know they can compete, and everything is more settled then it was a year ago, but they’re still in for some serious challenges along the way.
Yet, with the preseason in full swing, head coach Kelly Harrington has already seen some positives, and she’s happy with the way this year’s team is preparing for the difficult slate ahead.
“So far, everything is coming together nicely,” Harrington said. “Last year was a year about transition. This year, we are building on our skills and working hard to improve as a team.”
One of Toll Gate’s most difficult tasks is replacing the graduated Pattie Turner, a second-team All-State hitter a year ago.
Players like that don’t come around often, and Harrington is preparing for a slight drop-off in that regard. But what the team might lack in dominant hitting, it’s hoping to make up for in the little things.
“We’ll have to communicate well as a team and just play our positions,” Harrington said. “We have to work together, stay focused and give full effort each match.”
The team’s success starts with its four seniors. Middle hitters Laura Kazanjian and Jessica Brosnahan are back in the fold after seeing significant varsity time a year ago and they’ll be looking to provide more offense this year.
Jamie Lavoie, another senior, is expected to be one of the better defensive players on the team.
“She’s going to help us out defensively,” Harrington said of Lavoie. “She’s going to be great to have on the court at all times.”
The fourth senior is Lindsey Proulx, who was a member of the team in the early portion of last season.
It’s going to be up to those four to set the tone.
“Last year we had Pattie Turner, who was All-Division, All-State, and so she was a big contributor to our team,” Harrington said. “This year, the four seniors coming back are looking to improve.”
Another player the Titans will lean on is sophomore Jamie Hopgood, who’s making the transition from junior varsity to varsity. A lefty, Hopgood will be one of the team’s most powerful hitters.
“She’s a lefty coming up, and she has a ton of power,” Harrington said.
The Titans also have Kelsey Kurbiec, a junior, who started out the season on JV last year but moved up to the varsity before it was all said and done. She’ll also be one of the team’s top hitters.
Joining Kurbiec in the junior class is Arielle Frank, Lexi-Amber Hassell and Danielle Anderson, all of whom played on the JV team last year. Junior Alisha Thao is in the mix too, as she is returning to the program after playing her freshman year but taking last year off.
As far as most of the positions go, Harrington is still sorting it out, and she’s yet to even designate a setter.
But while finding the right combination is still in the works, one thing that Toll Gate can lean on is its serving.
Lavoie, Hopsgood, Brosnahan and Frank all have tough serves, and Harrington believes that can be one of the team’s biggest strengths.
“We want to improve every game,” Harrington said. “We need to focus on our defense and services. But we should be a tough-serving team.”
Beyond that, there’s still some uncertainty about what this season may bring. Toll Gate is prepared to give maximum effort, and live with the results.
The good news, though, is that the future looks bright. Thirty-one girls came out for the team this season, and the Titans are fielding a full junior varsity team once again.
There just might be a few tough matches while everything comes together.
“I am excited about our program,” Harrington said. “We have a lot of talent. We’re a young team this year. The future, I’m excited about the future.”
Toll Gate’s preseason will finish up on Friday, when it plays in Injury Fund matches at North Kingstown High School, beginning at 5 p.m.
The regular season begins soon after, as the Titans will play their first game of the year on Wednesday at Chariho at 6:30 p.m.