RIDGEFIELD — Darien has been the premier sports program in the FCIAC and perhaps the state for the last several years. In many respects, with the facilities, support system and now even an in-house program to stream games, it might seem closer to a Division III college than a high school athletic department.
When Ridgefield won six league or state titles a year ago and finished as a runner-up five times, it was largely considered the result of a stellar senior class. Much of the success came in the fall: the girls cross country, girls soccer, girls swimming, football and volleyball programs all made contributions to the trophy case.
Midway through this season, it is looking like the Tigers have a chance to come close to if not replicating a year ago, and that success may be sustainable.
We will know even more about the outlook over the next four days. The biggest favorite right now is the school’s volleyball team, which has yet to drop a set despite losing one of its top hitters, the setter and several key back row players. Caroline Curnal is among the state’s top players, while Lauren Thrasher has stepped up at setter and Mackenzie Wanicka and Alicia Hill are formidable at net. Coach Lidania Cibere has a strong defensive rotation.
Darien is on deck tomorrow, and looming down the road is the surprise of the season, St. Joseph, which has also not lost.
Talking about St. Joseph, its girls soccer team travels to Tiger Hollow on Monday night. The Cadets, to no one’s surprise, have not lost a game. Ridgefield, to the surprise of many, is also unbeaten, with a pair of draws. The Tigers were expected to take a tumble after graduating seven seniors that helped them win consecutive FCIAC titles, then advance to the Class LL final before losing to Glastonbury.
Ridgefield’s defense has been outstanding, and some of the players responsible for the record are freshmen and sophomores.
“Those girls taught me what I needed to do and I can teach the girls below me what they need to do, and even the juniors like Claire, she knows how to teach the team what needs to be done and show we don’t need all those girls, we all have talent,” said Kathryn Barlow, a four-year starter and captain, referring to Claire Middlebrook, her partner in the middle of the defense. Barlow spoke after yesterday’s 2-0 win over Wilton. “Once you know what to do it is easy to teach people how to do that and show it on the field.”
Barlow said she learned three years ago from Lianne Keegans, who is now starring at UConn, and then from a number of teammates who are also playing college ball.
“The volleyball team is doing awesome, everybody is doing awesome,” Barlow said. “I don’t know if it’s something specific but I think it’s because we have had great leaders, ever since I was a freshman with Lianne Keegans. All those girls are amazing. They taught us what needed to be done.”
The boys soccer team, hyped during the preseason but 1-2 to start, has now run off six straight wins and is very much in the mix in a year when all eight teams that qualify for the conference tournament will be capable of running off three straight wins. JT Siano, who returned after playing academy soccer, may be the league’s most dangerous finisher.
The girls cross country and swimming teams are again contenders, and the field hockey team is having one of its best seasons.
Oh, yeah, football. The Tigers were coming off back to back losses to Darien — in the Class LL final last December and the season opener 27 days ago, making them the Blue Wave’s 25th and 26th straight victims at the time.
Like some of their fall brothers and sisters, the members of the football team did not get a lot of offseason hype — until practice started and the realization came that while a lot of last year’s starters departed, coach Kevin Callahan’s cupboard remained well stocked.
We haven’t learned much since opening week about the Tigers. They were prohibitive favorites and had easy wins over Stamford and Bridgeport Central. Tomorrow night they travel to Staples and eight days later hit the road again to St. Joseph. By late that Saturday afternoon, we will have a better read if indeed a return trip to the state playoffs is on the radar.
While many of the top players at the school right now are seniors, there is a lot coming back next year, and the year after that. Several people yesterday in Tiger Hollow mentioned that in particular the current group of female freshmen and sophomores is exceptional.
“I do think we can keep this up,” Barlow said. “I hope so. We love sports. There’s something in the school right now.”