Coming off a winless campaign last season, there might not be a lot of optimism outside of the Toll Gate girls’ basketball program. But within it, the Titans believe they can take some big strides.
Toll Gate returns every player but one – Amber Boucher – off last year’s team that went 0-18 in Division II-South. The record was obviously not what the team wanted, but the season did serve as a way for the players to gain some valuable experience.
And trying to get the most of that experience will be first-year head coach John Paolino, who is taking over for long-time head man Joe Paliotta. Paliotta is on medical leave for the season, and Paolino – who was the boys’ freshman coach up until this season – is in on a one-year basis. After this season, Paliotta could return if the circumstances are right for him, or Paolino could move forward with the program.
In the meantime, Paolino is handling the duties, and trying to turn things around.
“I asked the girls, ‘What’s one of your goals?” Paolino said. “A lot of them said, ‘We want to win a game.’ I said, ‘To be honest with you, I set my goals a little higher. I think one of your goals, girls, is to shoot for the second season, to make the playoffs.’”
The Titans haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2005-06 season, and even that year they only went 4-14. Paolino wasn’t overly familiar with this year’s team before he took over, but what he’s seen so far has given him plenty of reason to believe that Toll Gate can right the ship.
“Depending on how tough the league is, we’ve got some speed and quickness, we’ve got some height,” Paolino said. “It’s just a matter of learning those fundamentals and getting them to understand how hard they have to work.”
Setting the pace for the Titans will be their two senior captains, Miranda Coleman and Katie McCaughey.
Both of them have been with the program for four years, and they’ll be looked upon for both production and leadership. Coleman will also be spending some time at a new position, as she will play out on the perimeter more this season than she has in year’s past.
“They’re going to get a lot of playing time,” Paolino said. “Katie McCaughey is a great athlete. Miranda works her tail off. She’s really worked on her outside shot a lot.”
The team’s third senior is Kailen Browning, and then there are also five juniors. Ingrid Freeman has the most experience of the group, and she’ll play both guard spots depending on the situation.
Inside, the team will look to Nicole Fraser as one of their options. Rounding out the junior class is Laura Kazanjian and Amanda Iadevaia, both of whom were on the team last year, and Lauren Barnes.
Barnes was ineligible last season, but Paolino sees a lot of talent.
“She’s got the potential to be really good here, either in the point or the off-guard position,” Paolino said. “She’s an excellent shooter.”
In the sophomore class, the team has Kelsey Kurbiec and Sarah Sagnella as swing players, as well as returning varsity player Laura McGuire.
McGuire played heavy minutes a year ago, and will most likely be the team’s starting point guard.
“She’s got a lot of speed, sees the floor very well,” Paolino said.
Courtney Sheridan, a freshman, is also on the roster. At 5-foot-9, she will be looked upon to provide a big presence when she’s on the court.
“Very athletic,” Paolino said. “She’s got a nice little shot. She’s fast – she’s like a gazelle. She comes with a big softball background, but she’s got the potential to be a real strong player in this league over the next couple of years.”
In general, Paolino likes the team’s athleticism and plans to get out and run more than the group did under Paliotta, who typically focused on half-court sets.
“I think we’ve got some athleticism and some speed and I’m going to try to push the tempo a little bit more than they’re used to doing,” Paolino said.
So far, everyone seems to be on board. The team started practicing last Monday, and every time out Paolino has seen an improvement.
The team’s first game is an Injury Fund contest on Thursday at home against North Providence at 7 p.m.
Following that, Toll Gate will open league play next Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the road at West Warwick.
“I’m real excited,” Paolino said. “For me, I didn’t think this opportunity would come. They’re buying into it so far.”