It had been almost three years since the Toll Gate girls’ volleyball team could celebrate like it did on Monday.
Down two of its top players and playing a home match at Warwick Vets while its gym remains out of commission, the Titans dominated from the service line and blew out Ponaganset in the final two games to win 3-1, the program’s first victory since the 2010 season.
The past two years, Toll Gate had gone a combined 0-30, and it was already 0-4 this year. It also lost its final four matches of the 2010 season, giving it 38 consecutive defeats leading into Monday. It hadn’t won a match since Oct. 19, 2010.
Finally, all that disappointment is in the past.
“It feels real good,” said first-year head coach Andrew Bevilacqua. “The girls have been coming in everyday working hard. I didn’t know how today was going to go because Courtney (Marsh), our starting middle, and Kelsey (Kurbiec), our starting left-side, both weren’t in school today. I had to make an adjustment. Everyone did their job today. It’s an awesome feeling.”
The Titans knew they would have a chance against the Chieftains, based on their record. Ponaganset was 0-5 entering the match.
Still, for a team that had lost 38 straight times, it wasn’t as though Toll Gate expected to just show up and beat Ponaganset.
“I check the standings regularly,” Bevilacqua said. “I know they’ve kind of struggled a little bit this year, but we’ve struggled too. And it’s because the teams are good. You’re in Division I. So I didn’t know. They had some tough matches.”
The teams looked as evenly matched as the records indicated in the first two games, as Toll Gate won a tight first game 25-23 and dropped the second game 25-19.
At that point, it looked like both teams had a shot. But the Titans took found another gear for the final two games. They won game three 25-8, and then backed that up with a match-clinching 25-13 win in game four.
It all started with the serving. For a team that has struggled with consistency in that aspect of the game throughout the first four matches of the season, the Titans caught fire at the perfect time. They finished with a season-high 31 aces, and it was spread throughout the entire lineup.
Danielle Anderson led the way with nine, while Jamie Hopgood recorded five.
“The serving all of a sudden just clicked so well,” Hopgood said. “I was so happy.”
From the time the Titans led 5-4 in the third game until they held an 8-0 lead in the fourth game, they won 28 out of 32 points.
With her team ahead 8-5 in game three, Arielle Frank went on a six-point serving run. Then, ahead 14-7, Anderson served six straight. After a point for Ponaganset made it 20-8, Toll Gate won the next point and Chin served the final four points to finish out the victory.
“Our serving was unbelievable today,” Bevilacqua said. “We had 31 aces. Two weeks ago when we played Prout, we missed 17 serves. I kind of make it a focal point in practice. We work on a drill, do some serving, do another drill then back to some serving stuff.”
In game four, Anderson started behind the service line for Toll Gate, and the ball only came back over the net twice in eight serves. The Titans won all of those points, and were off-and-running.
Ponaganset never got closer than four the rest of the way and the Titans went on another dominant string behind the service line. Hopgood went on a four-point tear starting at 11-5, and after Ponaganset cut the lead to 15-10, Toll Gate took a quick timeout to regroup and came back out hot.
The Titans lost the first point to cut their lead to 15-11, but then won the next one, sending Frank to the service line. She rallied off seven straight, all but ending the match. In fitting fashion, a few points later, Anderson finished the job with consecutive aces.
“It feels so good to finally get a win when we’ve been working so hard,” Hopgood said. “It feels so good.”
To go with her five aces, Hopgood also added five digs and five kills. Anderson – who had missed some time earlier in the season – came back with five kills on top of her high ace total as well.
Chin, who was filling in at middle hitter for Kurbiec, had five kills on seven attempts. Sophomore Taylor Payton, also filling in with the key players out, had a solid showing as well.
Other contributors on the day were Lexi Hassell, Brooke Casacalenda and Sydni Charette.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in the gym, taking over a team that hasn’t won in two years,” Bevilacqua said. “When I saw potential there, it just so happens they’re in the wrong division, but they’re getting better. It comes down to passing and serving or us.”
Now that the first win is out of the way, Toll Gate can turn its attention to moving up the standings as best it can. It takes on two-win Bay View today at 5:45 on the road, then welcomes in one-win South Kingstown on Monday. There should be a few other chances for wins as well.
All in all, the Titans are as excited as they’ve been in a long, long time.
“They are ecstatic,” Bevilacqua said. “We play Chariho again, they beat us in three but we had a couple of close games. We took a game from Prout. South Kingstown, we haven’t seen them yet but we play them on Monday. Then we have Bay View. We expect every team to give us a tough test but hopefully this will give us some confidence going forward.”