If you want to get a real measure on the current state of the Ridgefield girls basketball team, don’t look back to what it accomplished last year but what it is doing to tap the same success this winter.
In particular, there is the Tigers’ schedule. After a practice on Tuesday against Capital Prep, the preseason No. 1 team in the state, with two additional non-league games due to the departure of Bassick and Harding, coach Tom DiMarzo has scheduled Norwich Free Academy and Avon, currently 5th and 14th, respectively, in the first poll, as well as a tournament in Paterson, N.J.
“I don’t want to go 19-1 during the regular season and then lose,” explained DiMarzo, whose team opened third in the poll. Ridgefield broke new ground last season with its first FCIAC title in 19 years, and the goal is not to be complacent but at the very least to duplicate and ideally exceed that accomplishment.
“I don’t know how we will deal with being the hunted yet, but in terms of preparing we are preparing hard,” DiMarzo said. “They want to repeat. They want to be the first Ridgefield team to repeat at FCIACs, and we want to win a state championship.”
The Tigers come well-armed, with the returning 1-2 punch of center Rebecca Lawrence and point guard Jess Camarda, plus a strong supporting cast. But the road will be even more difficult than a year ago. Fairfield Warde is primed after getting experience last year to make a championship run. Stamford and Greenwich are legitimate contenders. The FCIAC is as difficult as at any time in recent memory. And that is before the Class LL Tournament.
“We can’t have the attitude we expect to win,” said the 6-3 Lawrence, whose ability as a scorer, passer, rebounder and defender allows her to contribute in a variety of manners. “We have to take it game by game. I think our attitude is every single practice we have to work hard and step up the energy. We feel more confident.”
A year ago, coming off a disappointing season in which they were expected to contend but failed to qualify for the FCIAC Tournament, DiMarzo was hired to take over and the preseason was a learning period.
“We had a new coach, a new start, we were coming off a bad season and we were optimistic,” Lawrence recalled. “We really wanted to work hard to reach the goal we got. This year feels different. Everyone looks to us as a team to prepare for, so there’s more pressure on us. We have to keep stepping it up.”
Thus DiMarzo’s own decision to make some changes, like the more demanding schedule. He would rather sacrifice a possible extra loss or two to have his players ready for the demands come the playoffs.
“With the girls being more familiar with what we do, we can put some wrinkles in and apply them to a certain player or players in a big game,” DiMarzo said. “It can make the difference. We put in a new offense. We are going to try and run two offenses. Last year we ran one and the second one is challenging. They still haven’t learned it yet. It has been a struggle, but in the end I still think it will work out.”
DiMarzo said it all starts with Lawrence and Camarda, who could not be more different but lead equally effectively.
“Our captains set the tone,” DiMarzo said. “Rebecca is soft-spoken and speaks through her actions. Jess is just a gym rat. She loves the game. I’ve never coached anybody really with her desire, boy or girl.”
The Tigers will have a good read on where they stand by the time the calendar turns. They open at Trumbull next Monday and then return home two days later to face Stamford and Tiana England. Avon follows.
“We think we can play with anybody,” DiMarzo said. “Our goal is to play in 28 games and if we do that we can win a championship. These are really good kids and they work hard. We look at everything as a marathon. We try to get better every day. Do that, and if you have some talent, you can do some special things.”