Toll Gate boys’ lacrosse will celebrate its 10th anniversary as a varsity program this season. Much has changed since the Titans joined the Rhode Island Interscholastic League in 2005. They were one of 13 teams in two divisions then. They will be one of 30 teams spread across three divisions in 2014.
Through all the growth and changing leagues, the Titans have been steady. They’ve made the playoffs in every season.
As the changes continue this year – and the path to the playoffs gets tougher – the Titans want to be right where they usually are.
“Our goal is always to be a playoff team,” said head coach Mike Vadney, who’s been at the helm since the beginning. “It’s going to be tough. Off the top of my head, I can think of four or five teams that are going to be very strong. Eight make the playoffs. We have to step it up and be in that top group.”
The Titans hope they have a team that can do it. It’ll be a different identity than last year, when they had a veteran defense and a strong goalie. Attack and midfield are the more experienced groups this year.
Regardless, expectations remain steady.
“We have good depth,” Vadney said. “We just have to put it all together, get that top unit up to where it needs to be.”
The Titans are coming off a 6-6 campaign last year. They were in danger of ending the program’s playoff streak when they started 3-6, but they finished the season with three consecutive wins to grab the eighth and final spot. They lost to eventual champion Smithfield 8-4 in the first round of the Division III postseason.
The growing pains that led to the 3-6 start may be back this season – just in different areas. Toll Gate is charged with replacing defenders Colby Connell and Michael Palumbo, who were team captains last year, along with goalie John Coleman.
“Last year, we definitely knew the attack would be a little bit of a question mark early on,” Vadney said. “This year, it’s the defense that doesn’t have as much as experience.”
But, just as the attack unit broke through last year, the defense is poised to do the same this season. Senior Joe Mercurio will slide back to a full-time defensive role after serving as a long-stick middle last year. Senior Dave Stachurski will step into a bigger role and senior Jackson Burgos is ready for a full-time spot after picking up the sport last year.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Vadney said. “They don’t have quite as much experience as those guys last year, but I think we’re going to end up having a good corps of long sticks.”
In net, the Titans have Doug Sanders and Chase Uglialoro competing for the starting job. Sanders was with the Titans last year. Uglialoro is new to the sport but has baseball catching experience, which could translate well to the goalie spot.
Whoever wins the job, it’ll be an unfamiliar situation for the Titans, who have had multi-year starters between the pipes throughout their 10 years.
“It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve had a question mark in net,” Vadney said. “I think they’re both capable. It’ll be interesting. Hopefully, the defense will step up.”
In the midfield, the Titans have senior Jesse Butler leading the way, with senior Billy Meehan, senior Zach Bromage and sophomore Will Patenaude pushing for big minutes as well.
“We’ve got some returning guys in the midfield,” Vadney said. “We’re a little thin but the guys who are there are solid.”
Up front, the unit that was a question mark last season may actually be the team’s biggest strength this year. Juniors Jack Sullivan, Anthony Ottone and Andrew Zelano, and sophomores Sean Vittum and Hunter Stephenson are all capable scorers. The Titans also have freshmen Kyle Palumbo, Chris Williams and Connor Sullivan in the mix, along with newcomers like Alex Mowry and Jacob Moran.
“It may be attack by committee this year,” Vadney said. “And that’s a nice problem to have.”
The Titans have also settled into an offensive system that they put in a few years ago.
“This is going to be our third year with this offense, and you can finally see the guys really getting it,” Vadney said. “We have moments of brilliance, a few moments of confusion but most of the time, it’s running smooth. I’d like to see the moments of brilliance increase and the moments of confusion decrease.”
If the Titans can put it all together, they hope to work their way into the top half of the league. Division III has expanded to 14 teams, and the top eight will make the playoffs.
“Our number one priority is to make the playoffs,” Vadney said. “The second is to have a winning record, the third is to go deep in the playoffs. I probably sound like a broken record because I say that every year, but that’s where we should be.”
The Titans will open the season Thursday with a 3:30 p.m. home game against Cranston East. The ’Bolts are in their second year as a varsity team.