In a season that so far hasn’t been particularly kind to either the Warwick Vets or Toll Gate boys’ volleyball teams, Tuesday night’s match-up was an opportunity to finally break into the win column.
Both teams had flashes of brilliance, and all three games could have gone either way, but it was the Titans who seized the chance and picked up their first win of the season with a 3-0 sweep.
Toll Gate is now 1-5 in Division II-South, while Vets fell to 0-7.
The games were all close, 25-22, 25-23 and 25-22, but the Titans were able to hang on in all three.
“It’s a great accomplishment, no question, to have a win under our belt,” Toll Gate head coach Claire Baggesen said. “I think the team does have the ability to turn their season around. There is a definite want. There is a definite will. There is a passion.”
There is also senior middle hitter Nick Carr, who was the clear best player on the court for either team.
While the ’Canes, at times, looked like they were struggling to get into a rhythm, the Titans didn’t seem to have that problem with Carr on the court.
He ended the match with 14 kills and seven blocks, and he was at the center of just about everything Toll Gate did either offensively or defensively.
“To see Nick grow from a freshman to now a senior, that’s what’s supposed to happen,” Baggesen said. “There’s no question he’s very athletic, and at the same time he’s got to be the dynamic one to keep the team together. He’s learning his role, as well, as that person.”
Yet, even with Carr’s presence, Toll Gate didn’t exactly blow Vets out of the water. The ’Canes were right there.
The Titans took big leads in all three games, only to see Vets fight back each time.
The ’Canes faced deficits of eight in game one, seven in game two and seven in game three, but always managed to rally.
“It’s some of the same stuff we’ve been doing,” Vets head coach Brendan Friel said. “We’re getting there, but it’s like getting to the top of the mountain. We can’t get over the hill.”
In game one, Toll Gate took an early 8-4 lead and then extended it out, eventually going up 20-12. Carr had two kills and an ace over that span, while Jackson Burgos added two kills of his own.
Down by eight, though, Vets made its move. A hitting error made it 20-13, before the teams traded service errors. Toll Gate went back up 22-14 on a tough serve by Carr, but Vets then got a kill from Slawamir Hermanowski and a hard hit by Christiano Ourique. Consecutive Toll Gate hitting errors made the score 22-18 before Vets committed a hitting error and fell back behind by five.
The ’Canes got a point back on a Titans’ service error, however, and a hard strike from Max Andrade made it a three-point game. Andrade followed that up with another big hit, and John Moore had a strong serve to get Vets within 23-22.
But Toll Gate woke up. Burgos played tough defense at the net on the next point, twice blocking potential kills, and Jarek Marte served a ball that Vets couldn’t return on game point, giving the Titans a 1-0 lead.
“We just need to win one,” Friel said. “The stuff in practice, we’re not playing at the level that we are in practice. For some reason we’re not having that intensity that we’ve had. When we get there, we have moments of brilliance. Then we get ourselves in the hole and we can’t get out of it.”
That pattern repeated itself in the next two games.
Toll Gate went up 12-5 in game two, with Carr racking up five kills. Vets started to make its move from there, scoring on three Titans’ hitting errors as well as an ace by Jacob McLinden to make it 13-9. A kill from Joey DeMauro made it 13-10, before Toll Gate re-extended its lead to seven points.
But the ’Canes continued to come back. Down 17-10, they won eight consecutive points to take an 18-17 lead. They even led as late as 23-20, but Toll Gate came back strong.
A kill from Carr made it a two-point game, and an ace from Burgos cut the deficit to one. Vets was called for a violation on the next play, tying the score. A hitting error put Toll Gate back on top, and a ’Canes’ bump that hit a light was whistled dead on the ensuing play, giving the Titans a 2-0 lead.
“Coming from behind, obviously it’s something that you have to learn in athletics, and that’s when they really come together,” Baggesen said. “To take the lead is one thing, but I think it is the true essence of a team when you’re able to come from behind.”
Toll Gate again went up 12-5 in game three, getting three kills from Carr, two aces from Burgos and some strong serving from Dimitri Mylers. Vets caught fire from that point on, as DeMauro, Ourique and Andrade all delivered kills. Ourique also had one of his two aces on the day, and Vets eventually tied the score at 21.
“In that third game, when we were down by a lot again, I told them, ‘Okay guys, it’s up to you. I can’t go out there and play for you,’” Friel said. “I’m thinking if I can light a fire on the sideline, that might transcribe to them.”
The Titans called a timeout, though, and it did the trick. The two teams traded points before Toll Gate won the final three points of the game, ending the match. A net violation provided the first one, followed by a kill from Burgos and an ace by Matt Davis.
The match win was a culmination for a Toll Gate team that nearly didn’t have enough players to field a team in the preseason, but has been working hard day in and day out since that point.
“This could be a very strong team by the end of the season,” Baggesen said.
To go with Carr’s stats, Mylers also had a big day, racking up nine total aces. DeMauro led Vets with six kills, while Andrade added three.
The Titans will be back in action today, when they travel to undefeated Pilgrim for a 6:30 p.m. game. Vets was scheduled to play on Friday, but the game was postponed. Because of that, its next game will also be against Pilgrim, Tuesday at home at 6 p.m.
“I’m trying to find things that fit,” Friel said. “I’m trying to see what pieces work together, and where they work. Hopefully we can take those 25-23 games and turn them around the other way.”