The Toll Gate volleyball team got swept in its first three matches and saw the trend continue last Thursday against title contender Cranston West. The Falcons won 25-16, 25-14 and 25-13 to improve to 3-0.
But for the Titans, the more important trend is a positive one. Currently there are only six players on the roster but everybody is improving and the team is getting more comfortable. Three more players are expected to be eligible soon, and if the improvement continues, the Titans are hoping to start a positive trend on the scoreboard.
“These guys really do want it,” said Toll Gate coach Claire Baggesen. “I think now that we see more positives – we have three guys coming in and we’re getting better – we should have a good, solid team.”
At this point, the Titans have to settle for flashes of solid play, and it was tough to come by against the Falcons, who went 13-1 last year.
West jumped out to a 10-3 lead in game one of Thursday’s match and the Titans struggled to get their footing until later in the game. An ace by Jackson Burgos cut a 10-point lead to nine at 18-9, and Nick Carr later got it to eight with a kill. An ace by Jarek Marte made it a seven-point game in the late going, but West took the next two points to win 25-16.
It was a similar story in game two, as West went up 8-3. Toll Gate stayed close for a while on two kills by Carr that made it a three-point game, but the Falcons started to pull away again. Two kills by Mike Rainone and two aces by Dylan Abrams made it 13-6. After Toll Gate got a point on a West carry, the Falcons won six of the next eight points and rolled on to the 25-14 win.
“Today was a tough match,” said West head coach Roger Tow. “We knew Toll Gate was understaffed, and when the other team only has six players, you can exploit weaknesses, but we just said let’s play regular. Toll Gate is in a tough situation. I have 22 players and don’t think I’m deep. If you have nobody pushing you, it’s tough to get better.”
The Falcons continued to cruise in game three, racing to a 13-3 lead, before a net violation and a block by Carr made it 13-5. A kill by Carr made it an eight-point game again at 15-7, but the Falcons won four of the next five points to go up by 11.
The lead dipped to eight once more at 19-11 on three West errors, but the Falcons took off from there, winning six of the final eight points to clinch the sweep.
Despite the scores, Baggesen saw improvement from the team’s first three matches.
“They were a little nervous in the first match but they also said ‘this is fun’ and they came back the next game and did well,” Baggesen said. “As soon as everyone starts getting their court legs, we can be competitive. We have two solid hitters and a good group around them. It’s just a matter of time. We’re a work in progress.”
And there have been several bright spots, with Carr as the big one. The senior is a four-year player and stacks up as one of the best players in the division.
“There’s no question he’s got the athleticism,” Baggesen said. “He’s got the maturity as a player and an individual. As soon as he gets the ball, he can do just about anything.”
Toll Gate’s less experienced players seem to be on the right track, as well, and Baggesen hopes the team is too. It’s been a tough road so far, but things are looking up.
“It is a challenge but it’s a challenge all six players and myself and those that we are waiting for have decided we’re going for,” Baggesen said. “Numbers in sports are coming down everywhere, but the fact is this is a team. They play as a team and when they’re on, they’re on.”
Toll Gate is back in action Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Westerly.