The Toll Gate gymnastics team is as young as it’s been in many years. That may keep the Titans from any big success this year, but from a long-term program perspective, it’s not a bad thing at all.
“We haven’t had a freshman class like this in a long time,” said assistant coach Christy DeMelis. “It’s good – hopefully they stay together and continue to get stronger. It’s nice knowing we’re not losing any seniors this year and that we’ll be able to build the program up a little bit.”
The Titans have eight gymnasts on the roster and only one is an upperclassmen – junior Eren Oztunc. There are no seniors, two sophomores and five freshmen.
The new-look team also has a new look at the top. DeMelis was the Titans’ head coach for more than a decade but she’s stepping into an assistant’s role this year and handing the reins to former Titan Rachael MaCrae. MaCrae has been an assistant the last two years.
“When I was ready to step down as the head coach, I felt confident that she would be able to take over,” DeMelis said. “I’ve been doing it so long, it’s kind of my baby and I felt good knowing she was applying. She’s a great coach and she’ll do a great job.”
The Titans have been on a roller-coaster with wins and losses the last few years, going 0-10 in the 2011-12 season and improving to 5-7 this year. Taking another step forward might be tough – the Titans are 0-4 thus far – but they’re focused on improvement. And there’s already been some of that. Toll Gate scored 99.40 in its first meet and bumped to 107.95 in Sunday’s match-up with Warwick Vets and West Warwick.
“They’ve done well,” DeMelis said. “Eight points is a pretty good improvement so that was good to see.”
The Titans don’t have a lot of gymnastics experience, but the competitors who are back from last year have gotten their feet wet. Oztunc and sophomores Kate Eminger and Kate Foeller all contributed last season.
“They’ve been helping out with the underclassmen, showing them how everything works,” DeMelis said. “They’ve done a good job.”
The freshman class includes Julia Barta, Alicia Censabella, Gianna Ottone, Bethany Sanders and Emily Trahan. They’re learning the ropes.
“The focus for freshmen is getting used to how the competition works, getting their routines down and working on their routines,” DeMelis said. “It’s just about getting comfortable.”
Vault has been the team’s strong point so far, with some of the freshmen getting in on the act.
“Even some of the new guys are trying it and doing pretty well,” DeMelis said. “That’s our strongest right now.”
As with most teams that don’t have year-round gymnasts, the bars are the toughest event. But the Titans are working on it.
“That’s the hardest but it’s nothing new for us,” DeMelis said. “We’re kind of used to that.”
MaCrae and DeMelis are hoping for improvement in all areas and there’s ample opportunity to set new benchmarks. The Titans have five more meets this season, with the finale scheduled for Feb. 1.
“It’s the same situation as the last couple of years where I don’t think we’re in position to win divisions or anything like that, but we’re hoping to get a few wins,” DeMelis said. “And we want to continue to get the new guys and everybody to try new things and perfect their routines. That’s only going to help the team in the future.”