Sunday marked the official end of the fall sports season in Rhode Island. It was an unusual season, without question the strangest I have ever been a part of. Of course, I am referring to the pandemic. Between masks becoming an essential piece of
Sunday marked the official end of the fall sports season in Rhode Island.
It was an unusual season, without question the strangest I have ever been a part of. Of course, I am referring to the pandemic.
Between masks becoming an essential piece of equipment, empty stands, constant schedule changes, adjusted playoff formats, what have you, this fall was certainly not what we are used to.
Regardless, though, we made it through with overall success. Most athletes got to play their fall sports and were able to do it with fans in attendance, some got to play in the playoffs, others won championships. It was hectic, no doubt, and there is still much to be seen for what happens next. We took the first step though, which is a big deal.
Here are a few of my final thoughts on fall season:
First off, in the Beacon Communications coverage area, we had one state champion in the Toll Gate soccer team.
The Lady Titans had an incredible second half of the season and playoff run. But the real story about this championship team was clearly who it was played for.
Back in 2017, Toll Gate goalie Gianna Cirella tragically died due to complications from sepsis, a rare blood disease. At the time, it shocked the state and rocked the Toll Gate community, especially the soccer team.
Fast forward to this season.
When speaking to players and coaches, they said time and time again that they are still recovering from the loss. Not that the girls will ever get over losing one of their closest friends, but it was not until recently that they finally began feeling truly normal again.
Toll Gate jumped out to a shaky start this season and even with a game or two left in the regular season, they were not sure if they would be qualifying for the playoffs.
Sure enough, they did just that and went on to upset Classical and then cruise past Narragansett at the Division III Championship in Johnston on Sunday.
Who scored two of the team’s goals and led the way throughout the season? Gianna’s little sister, Cassie.
Cassie had a fantastic season and capped it off with an incredible, championship performance. After the game, she and her mother Tara were both present on the field taking interviews. It was a very emotional experience.
Although it has been three years since Gianna’s passing, her impact is still very much being felt with this club. In fact, it wore its new purple jerseys in honor of her at the title match, while many wore pieces of clothing dedicated to GiStrong and Gianna’s foundation dedicated to raising funds for sepsis research.
Gianna will forever be part of this team and this community, and to see these girls win is especially memorable considering so many of them played alongside Gianna and went through the sadness of her death. Gianna was the team’s keeper during its last championship win in 2015.
Every once in a while we see these special stories in sports. Sunday’s was one of the best I have been able to watch since coming to Rhode Island. I am very happy for this team and community, congrats to all involved.
Another impressive unit was the Pilgrim girls, who came up short to La Salle in the Division I title game.
Pilgrim had been one of the top teams in Division II over the past few years and it appeared that a bump up was inevitable. The move up happened in 2020 and all eyes seemed to be on the Lady Pats heading into the season.
Would they be exposed? Would they learn the hard way? Nope, the Pats hit the ground running and immediately rose to the top of the standings and seemed to be in it for the long haul by about midseason.
Pilgrim then topped Cranston West in the quarters. The Falcons were a young group but went toe to toe with many of the best clubs in Rhode Island.
They then beat Smithfield in the semis. Smithfield has been a Division I power for a handful of years now.
Then in the title match. Although the Rams won 3-0, it was scoreless at half and Pilgrim had some early opportunities to jump ahead. La Salle won and deservedly so, but for Pilgrim to make the jump up and prove to be the second best team in the state’s best division? Impressive to say the least.
Our coverage area of Warwick, Cranston and Johnston has been nothing short of spectacular on the pitch in my three falls here.
The Toll Gate girls won the title, the Pilgrim girls reached the finals, as did the Johnston boys. The Pilgrim boys, both West clubs, the East boys and Hendricken all played this postseason. Central RI has become quite the soccer power in the state. I am excited to see what next fall brings for these teams, especially West, who’s roster will be loaded with experienced upperclassmen. The Lady Falcons could be the next ones to make that leap.
Now, it’s time to look ahead. We have the upcoming pause which will postpone sports until at least mid-December. The good news is that it sounds like the Rhode Island Interscholastic League is working toward a late December return. The bad news is that this virus is still very much present and trending in the wrong direction.
One way or another, I am optimistic that we will have winter sports. Will it look normal or be convenient? I can’t imagine it will be. But some sports are better than no sports, and at least it looks like that will happen.
My final thought of the fall regards football.
There will be no Thanksgiving football being played this year. I feel for the kids and families the most. It’s a tremendous American tradition that will surely be missed. I’ll miss being on the sidelines.
However, let’s try to make the most of it. Enjoy the extra time with family, friends, whoever you are spending the holiday with. Thanksgiving is the kickoff to the holidays (pun intended), so let’s be excited as we enter one of the best times of the year.
Be safe, take care, and happy Thanksgiving.