By ALEX SPONSELLER The Toll Gate girls soccer team beat Narragansett 3-1 to win the Division III State Championship on Sunday in Johnston for the program's first title since the 2015 season. It was an emotional contest as the Lady Titans took the
By ALEX SPONSELLER The Toll Gate girls soccer team beat Narragansett 3-1 to win the Division III State Championship on Sunday in Johnston for the program’s first title since the 2015 season.
It was an emotional contest as the Lady Titans took the fielding donning their alternate purple jerseys in honor of Gianna Cirella, the team’s former goalie that passed away unexpectedly due to complications from sepsis during the 2017 season. Fittingly, it would be Gianna’s younger sister Cassie - who is also the team’s captain - who scored two of the team’s three goals and led the way as Toll Gate claimed its first title in five years.
“My sister passed away in 2017 during the soccer season, so we got these jerseys this year as a remembrance. It’s amazing that we got to wear it for two out of our three playoff games. We talked about it before the game, we know she’s there, we play for her, most of us do. She’s the reason that I am still playing soccer,” said Cassie after the win.
On the field after the victory was their mother, Tara, who established the Gianna Cirella Memorial Fund which helps raise money toward sepsis research.
Tara was proud of Cassie as well as the team for their resilience throughout the past three years and this season.
“It’s kept her alive. I have never been quiet about that. There have been days that my husband and I were one thousand percent sure that if she didn’t have this team, we don’t know. We could have lost her, she could have been drowning in a puddle of emotions somewhere,” Tara said. “She doesn’t do that, she found her people right away, this team held her up when my husband and I were in pieces and didn’t know what to do for her. It’s amazing what a team can do.”
The two clubs were scoreless at halftime, but the Titans would break through early in the second on a goal from Olivia Dutra to take the 1-0 lead. Cassie would then give the Titans the 2-0 advantage with 23:39 remaining.
Narragansett made it interesting, getting a goal with 6:39 left to cut into the Toll Gate lead. However, the momentum was short-lived as Cassie added some insurance with 2:03 left to seal the win.
“I get pretty frustrated with myself pretty easily honestly, but I knew once we got one in we’d keep the ball rolling. I just kept shooting, kept taking my chances when I could. We’re a team that likes to share the ball a lot so I didn’t care who put the ball in the back of the net, whether it was me or the goalie, as long as we get it back there,” said Cassie.
For Cassie, who is a senior, it was the best way to cap off her career and honor her sister.
“She passed away during the soccer season so I always had the soccer team to hold me up. The coaches, everyone. It is amazing to finish this way, this is the best possible way, COVID took over the season but it’s a great way to finish and I was glad that we were able to wear these jerseys,” said Cassie.
Tara added: “Sometimes we think we know what’s better for kids, but it’s really their peers and their team. They all broke, it was ugly, but they figured out what they needed. They needed it too, they were missing Gianna too. Cassie didn’t break alone. She may be the captain but they got her here.”