Lady Titans eager to build on big seasons
The Warwick girls’ hockey co-op team has made a habit of one-upping itself in recent years. Two years ago, the Titans set a new program record for wins. Then last year, they moved up to Division I, nearly matched that record and made their first bit of headway against the state’s perennial powerhouses.
Don’t expect a step back.
“It was a great season last year in many ways,” said head coach Dave Tibbetts. “But we still haven’t won a playoff game. We thought we had a chance to contend last year and we were disappointed that we didn’t. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder. We’re ready to hit the ground running this year.”
The Titans started practice Monday and did so without some mainstays. All-time leading scorer Emily Fox and three-year starting goalie Kayleen Murphy were among eight players who graduated. Those holes and a few others will not be easy to fill, but the Titans trotted out a young lineup around their veterans last year. The returning players are back and ready for more.
“We definitely have some holes to fill but the team was young even last year,” Tibbetts said. “We were starting two freshmen on the top line, our top four defenders were freshmen and sophomores. They’re all back. We think we’re going to be very competitive. We have people to fill the holes.”
And they have momentum. The success of the last two seasons plus the move to Division I have allowed the program to pick up more steam than it’s ever had in its seven-year history.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Tibbetts said. “The girls are chomping at the bit to get out there. They’re all really excited.”
The Titans will be young again, with just three seniors on the roster – Jaime Given, Katherine Roberti and Arielle Frank. Given has been a solid performer for several years, Roberti will look to make an impact at a forward spot this season and Frank will be in the mix to replace Murphy in net.
The rest of the lineup is young, but there’s no shortage of talent.
Abby Ellis and Savannah Hersey return as the starting defensemen, roles they excelled in last season on their way to second-team All-State honors. As juniors with a lot of experience under their belt, they’ll be able to step into the leadership void as well.
“They’re two of the best in the state,” Tibbetts said.
Sophomores Makenzie Driscoll and Alyssa Mathews are also back in the fold after seeing significant time as freshmen, giving the Titans a defensive unit that should be as good as any in the state.
“I think we’ll be very solid back there,” Tibbetts said.
In goal, the Titans have three viable options to replace the departed Murphy. Frank has seen the most action, while junior Erin Vermilye also returns from last year’s roster. Freshman Gabriella Dicomitis has joined the team and will also compete for time.
“They’re each going to have a chance to play,” Tibbetts said. “They’ll battle it out during the season and we’ll see who emerges. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
At the other end of the ice, the Titans are expecting to pick up where they left off last year, when they were the third-highest scoring team in the division. While they’ll miss Fox – who was the first Lady Titan to reach 100 career points – a host of young guns are ready to take the torch.
Sophomores Madison Balutowski and Kelsey Holmes joined Fox on the top line last year and had no trouble making the transition to high school hockey. Holmes matched Fox for the team lead with 14 goals and chipped in eight assists. Balutowski was the team’s third-leading scorer with eight goals, to go with 12 assists. They were the top-scoring freshmen in the state.
“They carried a lot of the load as freshmen, more than we normally like to put on freshmen,” Tibbetts said. “But they were ready for it. They have a lot of tools – speed, they can finish, they have good chemistry with each other. Our top line should be one of the strongest in the state, whoever ends up playing with them.”
Other forwards include the seniors, Given and Roberti. Then there’s another wave of young players. Sophomore Carolyn Henn played both defense and forward last year, but will likely focus on a forward spot this season. Sophomores Jenna Sequeira and Samia Pratt are working their way back from injuries but should be in the mix, along with fellow sophomores Abby Given and Victoria LaFazia. And the Titans have two more talented freshmen – Natasha Savage and Paula Cavanagh – ready to follow the path blazed by Balutowski and Holmes.
“They’re experienced hockey players,” Tibbetts said. “I think they’ll be able to step in right away.”
It adds up to a team that should contend once again. The Titans finished 10-5 last season, a record that included a win over Mount St. Charles and an overtime loss to state champion La Salle. In the playoffs, the Titans fell short against Mount.
“I think the private schools are still going to be the teams to beat, but I think there’s going to be more parity this year,” Tibbetts said. “I think the standings will be closer and it’ll be a situation where anybody can beat anybody.”
The Titans are hoping to come out on the positive side in that landscape. They open the season with a weekend doubleheader on Dec. 6 and 7, and as they try for another step forward, they’ll be ready.
“We’ve talked already about hitting the ground running,” Tibbetts said. “Having so many freshmen last year, it took us a little while to find a groove. This year, everyone knows what they have to do. We want to start fast.”