The Toll Gate girls’ tennis team was on the verge of losing its perfect record in the final match of the regular season finale against Narragansett on Thursday.
With the score tied at three, only the No. 2 singles match remained to decide the outcome. When Toll Gate’s team of junior Abby Ellis and freshman Laurel Teneyck lost the first set 7-5 and went down 6-5 in the second set, it looked like the Titans’ storybook season was going to take an unfortunate turn off course.
But Ellis and Teneyck found a way to get it back on track.
The duo fought back to tie the second set at six, won 7-4 in the ensuing tiebreaker and then rolled 6-3 in the decisive third set the Titans to a 4-3 match victory and a 12-0 regular season.
“It was incredible,” Ellis said. “I’ve been in a lot of competitive environments before. But this one, it was just insane. Tennis is such a mental sport. We really had to keep ourselves motivated. I think that’s how Laurel and I won it. We just talked ourselves through the entire thing. We had help from our teammates who were outside the fence, too.”
Those teammates – who were wrapped in blankets and cheering every point – surged onto the court after the final point, as they celebrated Toll Gate’s best regular season since it won the Class A title in 1991.
“They wanted to go undefeated,” Toll Gate head coach Gary Gorman said. “They were a little tight and they knew Narragansett was the other top dog, them and Westerly. They had to wait all season for the last match of the year. I think it was a big relief off their shoulders, winning that No. 2 doubles. It was pretty special for them.”
The Titans entered the match having only been pushed to 4-3 once all season – a victory over Portsmouth. Toll Gate had lost only nine individual matches in its first 11 team matches.
But Narragansett was 10-1 coming in and had its sights on the Division II-Suburban B regular-season crown.
There was a lot on the line.
“I knew it was going to be close, but I didn’t think it was going to be that close,” Teneyck said. “Coach is always telling us that sooner or later we’re going to have a 3-3 match. We definitely had one this season.”
The day didn’t start out on the right foot for the Titans, whose No. 3 doubles team of Anna Rose Pearson and Addie Lamothe lost to Mack Page and Sarah Hoxsie 6-0, 6-2 for the first point of the match. The No. 1 doubles team of Jenn Schaad and Jackie Falso lost 6-2, 6-4 to Kara Heatherton and Maddie Gilbert.
Right away, Toll Gate was down 2-0.
“We knew that playing Narragansett, it was the closest we’ve ever been to a team,” Ellis said. “It was such a close match. It couldn’t have been more even. We were a lot more nervous because we knew we had to win.”
The Titans’ No. 4 singles player, Schuyler Tenecyk, was next off the court, as she beat Narragansett’s Mariana Sanchez 6-2, 6-4 to get her team on the board. Toll Gate’s No. 3, Mackenzie Kelly, was done shortly after with a hard-fought 6-2, 7-5 win over Kristen Gershkoff to knot the match at two.
“Mackenzie at No. 3, she’s been winning all year but she had her toughest match of the year,” Gorman said. “That girl pushed her to the limit. Schuyler Teneyck, she won at No. 4. She’s been winning all year.”
The next match done was at No. 2 singles, as Narragansett took a 3-2 lead thanks to a 6-2, 6-1 win by Eily Sullivan over Arianna Rizzo.
That left only two matches on the court – No. 1 singles and No. 2 doubles. At No. 1 singles, Toll Gate’s Caroline Waggoner – who was back from an injury for the first time in over two weeks – dropped the first set 4-6. At No. 2 doubles, Ellis and Laurel Teneyck lost the first set 7-5.
Gorman knew it would come down to those two matches, but the Titans now couldn’t afford a single set loss.
Waggoner started the comeback. She won the second set 6-4 over Olivia Scalora, and then dominated the third set en route to a 6-1 win. That kept Toll Gate alive, tied the overall match at three, and put the spotlight squarely on No. 2 doubles.
“I thought she could come back,” Gorman said of Waggoner. “In the first set she was right there. She lost a couple of 3-all games. It was her first match back in four matches – she’s had an injury – so that was her first match playing that competitive in about two-and-a-half weeks. For her to come back and play a competitive three-set match, not having played in two weeks, that was a big, big win.”
Playing the team of Ashley Kennedy and Brooke McGreen, Ellis and Teneyck led 5-4 in their first set before eventually losing. In the second set, they went down 6-5, but won the next game then controlled the tiebreak right from the start, forcing the final set.
With the sun going down in Narragansett, the court lights were put on, but it was Ellis and Teneyck who shone brightest. They lost the first game, but rallied to win the next four. After dropping a game to go back to 4-2, they won an important game to get back to 5-2. Narragansett pulled out one more win to make it 5-3, but Ellis served the final game and clinched the win for Toll Gate.
Ellis had played soccer during the fall the previous two year but decided to play tennis this summer after playing sparingly in the spring.
She caught on and teamed with a freshman to win the biggest individual match anyone has played at Toll Gate in quite some time.
“It was a freshman at No. 2 playing in a big match like that with everybody watching,” Gorman said. “Our team is screaming every time we win a point, and their team is screaming when they win. That’s a lot of pressure for a freshman coming in, and also Abby Ellis is a junior who’s never experienced a tennis match under those conditions.”
Now the Titans will turn their attention to the D-II playoffs, where they are the top seed. They have a bye through the quarterfinals and will play in the semifinals at Lincoln High School on Thursday against the winner of today’s match between Portsmouth and Providence Country Day.
Toll Gate beat Portsmouth 4-3 in the regular season and PCD 7-0.
Narragansett is the No. 3 seed and will face Classical today at 3:30 p.m. Westerly is the No. 2 seed and will face the winner of that match on Thursday in the semifinals.
The finals are set for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Pawtucket’s Slater Park.
The Titans will be trying to cap their special regular season with a special postseason and bring home the program’s first championship in 22 years.
“I think we can do it,” Teneyck said. “We’re Titans. We can do it.”