For years now, it’s been boom or bust for the Toll Gate field hockey program. When the Titans have had good years, they’ve typically been very good. And when they’ve struggled, they’ve really struggled.
The biggest factor seems to be experience. Their veteran teams do well, while their young squads have trouble. The last two seasons, the Titans were as inexperienced as they’ve been in a while, and they went winless in both campaigns.
As the 2014 season gets underway, the Titans still aren’t the kind of veteran team that has visions of contending with the best, but they’re trending that way more than they have the last few years. The Titans have six seniors who know the ropes, plus some experienced sophomores and juniors. They lost just one player to graduation.
It’s a start.
“Even though it’s still a relatively young team, the seniors are four-year veterans on offense and defense,” said head coach Leila Connolly. “That experience makes a big difference. They’re great role models. Hopefully, they just get better and better this year.”
The last time the Titans had a true veteran team was in 2011, when they won six games and made the playoffs. They haven’t won a league game since then, as a complete lack of experience caught up to them.
It’s no surprise that experience carries so much weight, especially for a program in Warwick.
“There aren’t feeder programs and field hockey can be a complicated game,” Connolly said. “Just knowing the game and having a feel for it makes a big difference.”
And this year, the Titans are a little bit ahead of the curve.
“We’re further along,” Connolly said. “We’re developing plays for corners and things like that, which we couldn’t do at this time last year.”
The veteran core is led by seniors Laura Andino, Breana Coleman, Paige Malo, Taylor Spinard, Jackie Durand and Stephanie Teran. Most of them have been part of the team for four years and are eager to have some success.
Kelsey Holmes leads a big junior class. As a sophomore, she was one of the Titans’ top players.
“She’s our go-to,” Connolly said.
Juniors Carolyn Henn and Maddie Cox picked up a lot of experience last year and will lead the front line. Sophomore Victoria Nelson, who started as a freshman, will help anchor the defense.
The one graduation loss was a big one, as the Titans will have to replace honorable mention all-division goalie Shanelle Lawson. Juniors Brittney Ayotte and Sam Ventre are in line to step in.
“Shanelle was a great goalie so that’s a big loss,” Connolly said. “With the lack of an experienced goalie, we’re really going to have to develop our defense.”
On the other side of the ball, the Titans need to work on possession, which was the biggest culprit in a lack of offense last season.
“I think we’ll do a better job with it this year,” Connolly said. “The midfield needs to get the ball up to the forwards, and if they do that, I think we’ll score some goals.”
The Titans hope it all adds up to a step forward.
“It’s a tight knit group so hopefully we can have some success,” Connolly said. “They work hard and they play well together.”
Toll Gate will open league play on Sept. 4 at Rocky Hill. The team is once again planning a Pink-Out event for October to raise money for breast cancer research. That game is set for Thursday, Oct. 9.