Girls Basketball

Commentary: The Secret To Ridgefield’s Success? Multi-Sport Athletes

Ridgefield’s Kelly Chittenden battles with Trumbull’s Cassi Barbato and Sarah Stolze for a loose ball during yesterday’s game. (Mark Conrad)

TRUMBULL — For the past few days — and throughout the season — Megan Klosowski could be found shadowing the best player on the opposing team. It is a task that calls for athleticism, intelligence and desire.

Klosowski is the defensive stopper for Ridgefield’s girls basketball team. She doesn’t spend 10 months a year in the gym. She can’t; Klosowski, a senior, was a major contributor to the school’s girls soccer team, which appeared in four straight state finals and won two titles.

And Klosowski’s responsibilities don’t require a year-long commitment to basketball. In fact, being a multi-sport athlete makes her better suited for her role.

“I think it really helps,” Klosowski said. “After the (soccer) season I’m in great shape. And we really run. We run a lot in basketball and speed up the pace a little bit. It all translates.”

“The shooting is a a little up and down, especially if you don’t work on it in the offseason. It’s so rewarding. I’m so, so happy.”

Megan Klosowski, the Tigers’ defensive stopper, goes up for a shot as Trumbull’s Emi Roberto defends. (Mark Conrad)

If you want to find perhaps the biggest reason for the Tigers’ run to tomorrow’s FCIAC final, having taken down the No. 2 and 3 seeds — most recently yesterday’s 41-38 semifinal win over host Trumbull — start with the multi-sport athlete. They are most coveted by colleges and Ridgefield right now is a poster child for the reasons.

“I think each sport brings in their own piece and comes together,” Klosowski said. “I think we do things that other teams that just specialize in basketball can’t.”

There are other teams that are comprised mostly of athletes who are not indoors during the spring, summer and fall. The Tigers are an interesting case study because they have been one of the more successful programs in recent years.

For every gym rat like Rebecca Lawrence, who is currently finishing off a career playing for Delaware, there are a few Caroline Curnals, who was a three-sport star for the Tigers now playing lacrosse at Villanova.

There are only three current basketball-only players on the Tigers’ roster. Most play a second sport. A few, like Cali Stietzel, the team’s best player during the first two wins, play three sports.

The Tigers have flourished behind an aggressive defense that has now shut down two strong teams. They have allowed a total of 67 points, which is going to win a lot of games if you can muster enough offense, which Ridgefield has.

Give Rob Coloney, the Tigers’ first-year coach, a number of good athletes willing to buy in to perhaps a less glamorous but ultimately vital fundamental and he will bring you a win away from a league championship.

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When Stietzel and Kate Wagner, the team’s top two scorers, went to the bench with four fouls in the third quarter last night against Trumbull, the Tigers trailed by a point but seemed in far greater trouble. By the time they returned with 3:39 remaining, they led by two.

That stretch was the most critical of the game for the Tigers, and it was fueled by players mostly known for their intangible contributions. Katie Flynn, a second-team All-FCIAC pick a year ago who has been slowed this year by injuries, looked like her old self and provided most of the offense during that period.

Trumbull’s Sarah Stolze tries to get by Ridgefield’s Kaya Weiskopf in the semifinal game. (Mark Conrad)

Kelly Chittenden — Ridgefield starting soccer goalkeeper — was a calming influence. A freshman, Maya Rubio, played significant minutes. It was a collaborative effort, which was not surprising.

“The team camaraderie we’ve developed this year has been unlike any team I have ever been a part of,” said Klosowski, who was part of tight-knit soccer teams. “We say ‘team first’ every time we come out on the floor and that’s really what this is. Whoever goes out on the floor, whoever’s name is called, they give it everything they have. We are such a team and we just work so well together.”

Credit Coloney, who wears his emotions on his sleeves during games and has his team peaking at the right moment, for being the unifying leader.

“We came together at the right time,” Klosowski said. “We’ve been figuring things out during the course of the season and it finally clicked.”

Ridgefield was a lower seed that most other coaches feared, and the reason was unanimous. “They’ve got athletes,” almost every one said.

Can these athletes create a storybook ending, and add the No. 1 seed to their pile of roadkill? Staples has been the best team all season. The most depth. And the best player, Arianna Gerig, who will present a challenge for the Tigers unlike any in the first two games.

The Wreckers are the favorites and Coloney named the two media outlets left covering the league and urged us to predict a Staples win. It would be foolish not to.

It would also be foolish to discount the Tigers’ chances. They may not match up equally talent wise, but those two- and three-sport athletes have proved an equalizer.

Said Klosowski, “We’re up for the challenge.”