The 2011 season was Toll Gate’s best since 2004, but it was built on the shoulders of a big senior class. Anytime that happens – especially in a sport like field hockey where experience is crucial – the next year can be tough.
And it was. Trotting out an almost entirely new lineup, the Titans went winless in 2012.
The good news is that the Titans have most of their players back from last year, and the first steps in building the program back up have been taken.
Now it’s about the next step.
“The year before, we lost 11 seniors and that hurt us,” said coach Leila Connolly. “We had four seniors last year. We need to rebuild. Most of the players did come back. Hopefully we’ll improve.”
Connolly is set to take over as head coach after serving as an assistant the last two years. Things have been in flux thus far, with school committee approval for Connolly and the start of practice creating a time crunch, but the Titans are hoping to settle in soon.
They have solid numbers, and they’re ready to get started.
“With all the kids we have this year, our long-term goal is really to build the program up,” said Melissa Heywood, who is slated to join the team as an assistant coach.
This year will be a chance for the Titans to make some headway and establish a nucleus of players for the future.
Optimism starts in the cage, where senior Shanelle Lawson is back as the starter. Despite the team’s struggles last year, Lawson kept Toll Gate in a lot of games.
“She’s awesome,” Connolly said. “She’s been a star for two years.”
The rest of the lineup has a little less experience, but most of the players saw the field last year and will be ready to take a leap this year.
The defense will be led by Jackie Durand, who has played a lot the last two years. Joining her Brittney Ayotte and Karina Raposa, two more returning players.
In the midfield, Toll Gate will miss Molly Turner, an all-division pick and the Warwick Beacon’s field hockey player of the year. Again, though, there’s some experience. Chloe Cerpovicz and Breana Coleman lead the way.
On the attack, the Titans have Kelsey Holmes, Caroline Henn and Maddie Cox back in the fold. They all played last year and showed some potential.
The Titans have a few other experienced players at various spots, plus half-a-dozen freshmen who have come out for the team.
“We have some ninth graders who are willing to hard,” Connolly said.
Toll Gate did not participate in the Injury Fund event on Saturday, but are gearing up for the start of the regular season on Sept. 11. Toll Gate opens with a home game against Rocky hill.
The Titans hope it’s the start of a resurgent year.
“They get along really well and they work well together,” Connolly said. “So far, so good.”