The Toll Gate gymnastics team isn’t quite as deep or quite as experienced as the squads that have finished .500 or better each of the last five seasons.
But this year’s version is already in the process of making its own name for itself, even if it still has a long way to go.
With only three returning gymnasts with legitimate high school experience, the Titans were just hoping to have a decent showing during Saturday’s season-opening meet with West Warwick at the Rita Beaulieu Dance and Gymnastics Center in Coventry.
Instead, Toll Gate surprised even itself.
“They far exceeded my expectations,” Toll Gate head coach Christy DeMelis said. “We have kind of a team that’s not as experienced as other teams in the past, but every single one of them did better than I could have imagined.”
The Titans put up a total score of 109, which was significantly higher than the 90 that DeMelis was shooting for. It wasn’t quite enough to lift Toll Gate to victory – West Warwick scored 126 – but it was more than enough to give the Titans a little bit of hope as the season moves along.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier after a first meet,” DeMelis said.
Toll Gate’s success starts with Katie Favino and Molly Fox, two seniors that have been with the team for four seasons.
They are by far the most experienced gymnasts on the team, and they’ll be the top gymnasts as well.
“They both have improved dramatically from their freshman year,” DeMelis said. “Freshman year, they were good, but over the last four years they’ve really improved – which you don’t always see. Usually they kind of stay the same. But both of them have improved a lot.”
The team’s other experienced gymnast is junior Lindsey Proulx, who competed for the first time last year as a sophomore.
In just the short time that she has been involved with the team she has grown into one of Toll Gate’s most consistent performers.
“She’s now an all-around competitor, and she’s probably going to be our third best gymnast,” DeMelis said. “She’s improved dramatically since the start of last year.”
Beyond those three, there are five other girls on the team. Senior Ashley Courtney is in the mix, as are juniors Allysa Dolan, Tiffany Meunier and Roshonda Perry. Freshman Amber Proulx is also on the roster.
Every girl on the team competed during Saturday’s meet, which was a step in the right direction in its own right. DeMelis expects there to be some struggles on the balance beam and the uneven bars, but that’s understandable with so much inexperience.
“We got everybody to compete,” DeMelis said. “They did really well. A lot of them were nervous, obviously, because they’ve never competed before.”
And because of the way the team performed in its only meet thus far, DeMelis has had to re-assess how good she thinks the Titans can actually be.
What was once thought to be a season in which Toll Gate would be lucky to pick up one win, there is now at least some optimism that the Titans can fight their way into the middle of the pack in Division II.
“Now that they did so well today, I don’t know where they’ll fit in,” DeMelis said. “West Warwick and Warwick Vets I know are going to be really tough this year. I’ve heard some of the other teams in the division are kind of in the same place that we are – lost some of their team and have some beginner gymnasts for this year. I guess third, fourth, fifth and sixth is kind of up in the air.”
The groundwork is set for even more improvement.
Though Toll Gate has been practicing for a month and a half, it was still memorizing its routines the day before Saturday’s meet.
As time goes on, all of that should become more natural.
Now, the Titans want to see if they can get a score over 110. Their next chance will be Sunday at Dream Big Gymnastics against Exeter/West Greenwich and West Warwick at 1 p.m.
They’ll take it meet by meet. But they’re certainly excited with how it’s all started out.
“I think it would be hard for us to make it to states, but if we keep doing what we just did, you never know,” DeMelis said.