As soon as plans for Rhode Island Interscholastic League realignment were announced before last spring, it was easy to predict that the Toll Gate tennis team wouldn’t be a good fit in Division I. The Titans, who had gone 1-15 the year before in Division II, went 1-15 again last year in their first Division I season.
As the 2012 season opens, the Titans find themselves in Division I again and facing a tough challenge. They don’t have the depth or the tennis experience of the top teams in the league.
But in terms of the intangibles, new head coach Tamra Gallo thinks they fit right in.
“We’re in Division I, which is tough,” Gallo said. “We don’t have the depth that a lot of teams have, but we’ve got heart. They’re out to have a good time and that’s key. They’re very, very nice boys. I’m thrilled.”
Gallo is stepping in for Gary McCoombs, who had to give up the position after becoming the interim principal at an elementary school in Warwick. Gallo, a math teacher at Toll Gate, hasn’t coached before but has played a lot of tennis. When she was asked to take over, she didn’t hesitate.
“I was approached by a couple of kids and the A.D,” Gallo said. “It’s a really great group of kids. I don’t know anybody who would mind working with them.”
Gallo inherits a team with a variety of experience and skill levels, but one that’s ready to compete day in and day out. The Titans are more experienced in general than they were last year, and they’ve also got a year of Division I tennis under their belts.
While the competition will still be difficult, the Titans at least know what to expect.
Leading the way for the Titans will be their top three singles players, all of whom played on the singles ladder last season.
Junior Justin Allen has vaulted into the top spot after playing No. 2 a year ago, senior Rick Weedon – a four-year starter – is playing No. 2 singles, and senior Ian Nelson jumps to No. 3 after playing in the fourth spot last year.
Despite their experience, those three will face uphill battles as they go against the top players in the state, but Gallo thinks they’ll be able to hold their own. In last Thursday’s match against Hendricken, Weedon played well against Hawks senior Evan Chomka before losing 6-2, 6-1.
“I think [they can compete], and I think as the season goes on, we’ll see some more improvement,” Gallo said.
Senior Nate McGuire, a doubles player last year, rounds out the singles lineup in the fourth spot.
The doubles teams don’t have as much experience, but they’re showing potential. Freshmen Brandyn Garrahy and Dan Smith have jumped right into the No. 1 singles spot. Sophomore Jeremy Cullen, a returning player, is teaming with junior Nick Czabanowski at No. 2 doubles. Senior Patrick Worrell and freshman Curtis LoCicero are playing No. 3 doubles. Sophomore Kyle Gray and freshman Hunter Heberg are also on the roster.
“It’s a real mix,” Gallo said. “I have a couple of kids who have never played before, and I have one who’s from Turkey and didn’t speak any English last year. But the kids have welcomed him with open arms. It’s an awesome group.”
Ultimately, that should pave the way for a good season, regardless of the win-loss record. The Titans are 0-2 so far this season, with 7-0 losses to perennial powers Barrington and Hendricken.
Whatever happens, the Titans will keep on working.
“Honestly, I want them to have a good time,” Gallo said. “They’re playing five days a week. I hope they feel like they’re making improvements as the season goes on. We don’t have any lofty goals. It’s just about making improvement.”
Toll Gate will return to the court today at 4 p.m. for a home match against Westerly.