NARRAGANSETT — The season opener on Saturday morning had the Narragansett High School girls soccer team adjusting both to the trappings of sports amid the pandemic and to a higher caliber of opponent.

Toll Gate topped the Mariners 3-1, with the result proving representative of a new look in Division III. The overmatched teams from the bottom of the standings have dropped to Division IV. Narragansett and several others have stayed put. Toll Gate is one of four teams that have moved down.

“It’s definitely different and I’ve explained that to the girls. It’s kind of a reality check,” Narragansett head coach Kathryn Mahoney said. “Toll Gate came down and they were in D-I a couple of years ago. They weren’t successful there, but they got used to that style of play. Whereas, we’re used to a much slower pace, with the exception of some of the better teams. It’s an adjustment.”

As for the other adaptation, the Mariners are handling mask requirements and social distancing just fine, Mahoney said.

“They’ve done a great job,” she said. “I’ve run with them at practice just to see how it is, and it’s not easy. And this was our first time playing 80 minutes, so it’s tough to play with a mask on. But they don’t complain. They fight through it.”

That approach echoes the perspective that many athletes and coaches have tapped into during the pandemic. Some had their spring sports canceled. And over the summer, soccer players weren’t sure they would even have a fall season.

“This is great. Unexpected based on how things were progressing in the spring,” Mahoney said. “To have the opportunity to be out here, we’re fortunate and grateful. That’s what I say to the girls. Any day, this could be cut short, so take advantage and play every game like it could be your last. Not to be pessimistic or doom-and-gloom, but that’s the reality.”

The Mariners are also hoping to keep the bar high. They were the Division III runner-up in 2018. Last year, a group dominated by underclassmen avoided a step back, finishing 11-3-2. Youth is still front and center, and ready for the challenge of the tougher D-III slate.

“We only have six upperclassmen – three seniors and three juniors,” Mahoney said. “It’s unusual to rely so heavily on underclassmen, but that’s the reality. They make up the majority of the team, and there’s a lot of promise.”

Toll Gate scored an early goal in Saturday’s game before Narragansett freshman goalie Jenna Silvestri settled in. Two breakaway chances netted two more goals for the Titans, one before halftime and one shortly after. Narragansett got on the board in the game’s final minute on a goal by Bridget Blessing.

While the short season limits some of the growth that a young team might be able to experience, the Mariners will try to make the most of their time on the pitch.

“It’s a compressed season,” Mahoney said. “Six games and a handful of non-league games. It’s definitely different, but I’m just grateful with all the newcomers we have, that we can get out here and play together, that I can get to know them and they can get to know our style. For me, every game is a bonus.”

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