The Toll Gate girls’ tennis team went 10-4 last year, but it graduated a few players and lost its head coach as well.
A step backwards, then, would be the logical progression for the Titans, as they break in new pieces on both the coaching staff and the courts.
That, though, isn’t really what Toll Gate has in mind.
It wants to keep moving forward, and it may very well have the firepower to get it done.
After two years on the job, former head coach Gary McCoombs has stepped aside after taking over as principal at Hoxsie Elementary School. In his place is Gary Gorman, and he brings with him an extensive tennis background.
Gorman has served as an assistant coach for the South Kingstown boys’ tennis team the past few years, a program that has won 15 consecutive state titles. Prior to that he was the men’s head coach at URI, while also handling the duties as a tennis pro at various clubs throughout New York and Connecticut for 23 years. He also coached the Pilgrim girls’ tennis team at one point.
Before the career in coaching, he was the 1978 Rhode Island high school singles champion at East Providence and also won the state doubles title three years in a row from 1976-78. Those accolades netted him a scholarship to Division I Louisiana State University, where he played tennis in college.
The knowledge is clearly there. Now he’ll try to pass it on to the girls at Toll Gate.
“There’s a new chief in town and there’s new guidelines that I expect,” Gorman said. “If I can give them some of my experience and knowledge, that’s my goal – to pass on some of my knowledge. Hopefully they have fun.”
If the first match was any indication, the Titans are already on the right track. They beat defending Division III champion Ponaganset – which moved up to D-II this year – 7-0 on Friday, and dropped only one set as a team.
Of course, it helps to have some experience, and even after graduation took away some of the team’s better players from last year, it still has plenty of returners.
And they’re hungry.
“It’s a bunch of good girls with good attitudes,” Gorman said. “No whiners. I’m happy so far. They’re motivated, I’m more motivated. It looks like they want to win.”
Alexis Dengel, Kayla Lopes and Oliva French – who played No. 1, 2 and 1 doubles, respectively, last year – have moved on, but Gorman is confident in his group.
Playing in the top spot is junior Mackenzie Kelly, who played No. 3 singles last year. She’s separated herself so far this season as the team’s clear cut No. 1.
“She’s my dominant right now,” Gorman said. “She didn’t lose any challenge matches. She pretty much handles everybody.”
After that, it gets a little cloudy, as there is a lot of parity in the lineup from 2-to-8.
On Friday, sophomore Schuyler Teneyck played at No. 2 after playing doubles a year ago. At No. 3, sophomore Arianna Rizzo stepped in, with a freshman season under her belt that saw her play singles and doubles.
The team’s No. 4 player was sophomore Jennifer Schaad.
Schaad battled back to win after dropping her first set 3-6, while the others won in straight sets. Kelly won 6-2, 6-2, Teneyck won 6-2, 6-1 and Rizzo won 7-5, 6-3. Schaad’s two set wins were 6-3, 6-2.
“I’m very surprised that all the girls are so dedicated,” Gorman said. “They work hard at practices. So if they’re motivated and interested in learning, that motivates me as a coach. I’ve got a good bunch of girls.”
At first doubles, freshman Caroline Waggoner played alongside senior Rachel Deschenes and won 7-5, 6-2, while senior Leona Chau and junior Jackie Falso played No. 2 doubles and won 6-0, 7-6 (7-3).
At third doubles, Junior Annarose Pearson and senior Ali Pickson won 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.
That order of the players was just based on the practices that Gorman has seen. It’s certainly subject to change, which could help push everybody to raise their level of play.
Senior Chloe Underwood, juniors Elizabeth Farnsworth, Adeline Lamothe and Allison Graves and sophomore Rachel Ferreira are also on the roster.
A little competition is a good thing.
“In girls’ tennis, any girl in a given day can beat another one,” Gorman said. “In my lineup, my No. 4 can beat my No. 2 on Monday, and my No. 6 can beat my No. 3 on Wednesday. Today is all about who’s consistent, who’s match tough, who can do it. From 2-to-8 everybody can beat anybody. That No. 8, don’t give up because you can beat that next girl.”
It amounts to a team that is still sorting some things out, but hopes to contend. Toll Gate has reached the quarterfinals each of the past four years.
Now, with Gorman at the helm, the Titans will look to accomplish even more. But they’re quick not to get ahead of themselves. It’s a long season.
“I didn’t even research records [from last year],” Gorman said. “I don’t even know who won. I could care less. We’ll take it one match at a time.”
Toll Gate was scheduled to have its second match of the season against Chariho on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time. The Titans will be back in action on Wednesday at Portsmouth at 3:30 p.m.