Riley Peters had the chance two years ago to play with her older sister Maddie on the Ridgefield field hockey team. As she prepared last summer for her senior season, she was unsure if she would get the same opportunity with her younger sister, MacKenzie, an incoming freshman.
“I wasn’t expecting to play with Mackenzie this year,” Riley said. “With the age difference I didn’t know if Coach Smith would take freshmen.”
While there may have been uncertainty in the Peters household, that was certainly not the case with Jessica Smith, the Tigers’ coach.
“As soon as you see her in scrimmage and game play you can tell she excels,” Smith said. “Her speed and ability to break away from defenders and other players was incredible, so I kind of had a feeling right from the start she’d be pretty impactful.”
That turned out to be an understatement. Mackenzie’s versatile skill set led to her not just making the team and earning a starting position, but finishing tied with a team-high eight goals.
In the regional final against Staples, each sister scored in a 2-1 win, giving the Tigers their first postseason title of any kind in the sport. And their contributions gained further recognition: Riley and MacKenzie last week were selected to the All-State team, joining teammates Aerin Krys and Lisa van Gompel.
“We were both so pumped,” said Riley, who played midfield. “Mackenzie, I, Aerin and Lisa worked so hard throughout the season. Each one of us deserved it and I wish everyone on the team could get one because everyone deserved it. It was a team effort. Just because me and Mackenzie scored the goals, it was a whole team effort that made us win.”
Riley led the team with eight assists. She was part of a returning nucleus that over the past three years carried the Tigers from a .500 program to FCIAC contender.
“I knew Riley was going to definitely be a big leader for us this year,” Smith said. “This was my third year with the team so I’ve seen her grow into a leader, and she really cares deeply about this program. I knew her senior year was going to be very important to her.”
With a more productive youth feeder program, Ridgefield had made great strides in the sport, but still lacked a marquee win over Staples or Darien, the league’s two top teams.
The FCIAC played a regionalized schedule this season. Ridgefield was in a different pod from Darien but faced the Wreckers twice during the regular season, losing both times by a goal.
Mackenzie, a forward who scored twice in the Tigers’ semifinal win, put Ridgefield up with a goal late in the first quarter of the title game. Riley scored what proved to be the game-winner with 2:33 remaining. It was pivotal after Staples scored late.
“Winning has always been Ridgefield’s goal, and even though this was a weird year with Covid and everything, we finally did it and it was a sweet victory,” Riley said.
The chemistry between the sisters was a microcosm of the team’s, and has been pointed to as a factor in particular for Mackenzie’s development.
“Having Riley as a captain helped Mackenzie blossom a little bit more,” Smith said. “She became very comfortable very quickly. Having her older sister as the leader really helped with that and gave her confidence to shine through and take ownership of the field. There were times we purposely put Riley and Mackenzie in position so they could pass to one another and use that midfield connection up to the forward line.”
While Mackenzie’s strength may be finishing plays, she has shared her sister’s skill for setting up others when it comes to accounting for her memorable rookie season.
“We bonded a lot over field hockey,” Mackenzie said. “We just got closer and knew where each other was on the field. I knew when I had the ball where Riley was. She was at the top of the circle. And she knew where I was. So we had a bunch of good passes and plays. I think it shows how everyone’s work on the team paid off. I think the coaches’ work with the team had a lot to do with it. They told me where to be and what I was doing good and bad.”
Riley will now turn her focus to lacrosse. She will play next year at Holy Cross.
That will leave Mackenzie to build on this year and help the Tigers try and win titles when there is a return to a conventional season.
“The three Peters girls, they keep blowing me away,” Smith said. “I think of the three Mackenzie is the most talented. She’s had the opportunity to watch her older sisters and learn a lot from them, which has definitely allowed her to have this instant success.”