The Toll Gate field hockey team surprised the state last year, as it recovered from a shaky start to the season, caught fire down the stretch and advanced to the state title game, where it fell to Tiverton in overtime.
The Lady Titans will bring back a new-look squad in 2019 after graduating eight starters, but are still aiming to be in the championship mix once again.
Toll Gate will now rely heavily on its lone seniors, Grace Potter and Isabella Ventre, as well as underclassmen to step up and fill the void.
“We’re trying to set an example and carry on what the seniors last year taught us. Our team is mostly new players that haven’t even picked up a field hockey stick before, so we’re trying to show them how to play, good sportsmanship. It’s always been like that, field hockey is a fun sport to play and it’s easy to catch on to,” said Potter, who believes that chemistry will help the younger Titans catch up to speed. “A new season is always a good thing. I think our conditioning and communication will be key for us. It’s good that we’re all friends, no one is scared to ask questions about position and stuff like that. I think we’ll do well; I’m looking forward to playing one last year and am hoping that we can finish on top of our division again.”
Ventre has already seen improvement in the younger players and hopes to see them remain confident throughout the season.
“It was difficult at the beginning but they’ve improved. It’s been noticeable, it’s been very noticeable. Some of the freshman that could barley pick up the stick are ready to be starters, so to see that [growth] has been really cool,” said Ventre. “We just can’t give up on ourselves or any of the other players. That’s a big key.”
Toll Gate coach Jim Areson has been proud of the leadership that Potter and Ventre have displayed to this point. He has also emphasized the importance of making the most of each opportunity to the younger players that are trying to cement their roles on the team.
“We lost quite a bit, but our two seniors this year in Grace Potter and Isabella Ventre have been phenomenal leaders so far, they’ve done a great job. I’ve told the girls that this year is a massive opportunity because if you want to play, then you will be able to play. There is plenty of playing time for all of them, we’re still going to be incredibly competitive and I really believe that,” Areson said.
Although the Titans’ starting lineup will be much different, many of the returning players got to experience the deep playoff run last season. Areson believes that the experience, whether it be on the field or not, will pay dividends in 2019 and help the younger girls when the lights are their brightest.
“Any time you get there is a confidence booster, and it’s fun, the whole experience of it,” Areson said. “The goal was always just to make the playoffs and to go from there, but we went on that deep run. This a completely different team, though. If that team was made up of juniors, then yes, that would be a big motivator. This year we have a bunch of new girls looking to fill in some big shoes, and from watching them this preseason, like Hope Flaherty, Erica Armstrong, Megan McCamish, you can see how much they’ve improved so hopefully they can fill those shoes seamlessly.”