Last year, the Toll Gate boys’ tennis team caught its breath. After a tough stretch in Division I, the Titans returned to the familiar landscape of Division II and held their own in a 5-7 season.
This year, they’ve got more experience, bigger numbers and bigger goals.
There’s no breath-catching needed.
“We’ve got 16 guys on the team, much more depth and the play is much better than it’s been,” said head coach Tamra Gallo. “This is exciting. We’ve got singles players with experience and we’ve got eight guys who are vying for the doubles spots, so they’re working hard. It’s been much more competitive. It’s been really fun.”
The Titans hope that leads them back to success. The program hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, when it won the second of its two consecutive Division II championships, but this team has as good a shot as any squad in recent years to take a step forward.
“We’ve got a lot of guys returning,” Gallo said, “and I’ve got some new guys that came out for the first time, and they can play.”
At the top of the singles ladder is junior Brandyn Garrahy. He played No. 2 singles last year and is sliding into the No. 1 spot this year.
“Brandyn’s an aggressive player, and he’s solid in his entire game,” Gallo said.
Junior Dan Smith is also back. He moves to No. 2 after playing No. 3 singles last season.
“Dan is solid and his serve has gotten terrific,” Gallo said. “He puts quite a spin on it.”
Sophomore Nick Mattioli is in the third slot after making a splash on the varsity team last year.
“Nick is still young but he’s getting more aggressive at the net and he’s balanced out his game well,” Gallo said.
Senior Jeremy Cullen rounds out the singles lineup at No. 4. He played doubles last year.
“Jeremy is my go-to, steady guy,” Gallo said. “He’s like playing against a backboard. He doesn’t make a lot of unforced errors.”
In the doubles lineup, Thursday’s season-opening match featured Hunter Heberg and Duncan Hart in the top spot, John Yavas and Noah Lukens at No. 2 and Kyle Gray and Ryan Donnelly at No. 3. But challenge matches are ongoing and others will be in the mix, including Collin Gleavey, Jacob King, Burt Lu, Tyler Merrow, Jacob Newell and Danial Tariq.
“I think it’s going to be very fluid,” Gallo said. “I don’t know what it’s looking like right now, but they’re all improving.”
The Titans didn’t open the season the way hoped, falling 6-1 to Prout. But two of the losses on the singles ladder came in three sets, and Prout was the D-II runner-up last year after an unbeaten regular season.
Toll Gate will try to break into the win column today when it visits Tolman at 3:30 p.m.
“I’d like to improve on our record for last year,” Gallo said. “I think it’s very doable. We have a solid roster and guys waiting in the wings ready to fight for spots. I’m excited.”