There was great strength up top during the FCIAC girls soccer regular season. The first four seeds all have two or fewer losses, with St. Joseph leading the way with a 14-1-1 mark, one point ahead of defending champion Ridgefield.
Many feel the two will stage a rematch of last year’s final, but there are a number of other schools looming in the bushes. Staples played well despite the season-ending injury to star Lydia Shaw, with contributions from many skilled young players. But can the Wreckers handle the loss of another starter, Annie Amacker, who also suffered a torn ACL?
Wilton had a revival this fall after recent turmoil and has proved it can play with anybody.
What does it all mean? Read on.
No. 8 Warde (7-5-4) at No. 1 St. Joseph (14-1-1), 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 Trumbull (8-6-2) at No. 2 Ridgefield (14-2-0), 4 p.m.
No. 6 Darien (9-3-4) at No. 3 Staples (11-2-3), 3:30 p.m.
No. 5 Wilton (11-4-1) at No. 4 Westhill (10-2-4), 3:30 p.m.
Ridgefield. The Tigers finished one point behind St. Joseph for the top seed due to their first two-game losing streak in three years. Ridgefield has the most complete lineup, the experience, with nine starters back from last year’s championship team, and if every team played at their best I think the Tigers are a little ahead of the field.
But they are not a prohibitive favorite, as we will get to in a moment.
The defense remains a strong point, starting with goalkeeper Julia Middlebrook and a back row led by the rock-solid Molly Nethercott, Kathryn Barlow, master at winning 50-50 balls, and the very unsung Claire Middlebrook in the middle.
Alyssa Bonanno (7 goals, 3 assists) has had an outstanding season at midfield, flanked by Grace Franklin. Forwards Katie Jasminski (13 goals, 10 assists) and Alex Damron (9 goals, 16 assists) have tremendous chemistry. Jasminski is the player opposing coaches put on the top of their gameplans.
Natalie Brassinga (4 goals, 4 assists) is a solid threat, while first-year starters Emma Jacobsen and Anna Landler have fit in well.
That’s roll call. So what is the concern? Opponents would do well to watch the Cadets’ win over Ridgefield again. They did a good job of pinning the Tigers in the their own end, neutralizing their forwards. Jasminski got few touches and a team that excels on set pieces had no corner kicks.
There are no replacements for experience and Ridgefield has not been an overconfident group. But defending a title when targeted is harder than winning one as a skilled underdog. The losses earlier this month may have proved beneficial. If the Tigers can respond to the pressure there is no reason they can’t go back to back.
St. Joseph. Call this a cop-out add-on category, but I have really labored when breaking down St. Joseph and Ridgefield, in part because of the teams’ regular-season meeting, in part because of the wonderful coaching job by Jack Nogueira, who took a team hit hard by graduation losses — including All-American Jenna Bike — and led it to another regular season title.
Lindsey Savko has been as dangerous a finisher as there is in the league — we don’t have complete statistics but with 23 goals she must be No. 1 in scoring. The catalyst though is sophomore midfielder Jessica Mazo, the pick here so far for the FCIAC’s most valuable player. She is a game-changer.
Christina DiCesare and Tory Bike have been impenetrable for a defense that has yielded eight goals. Coach of the Year will probably go to Wilton’s Renato Topalli or Darien’s Leigh Parsons for exceeding expectations, but Nogueira has been equally masterful.
Westhill. The Vikings have the most explosive offense in the league, with the dangerous Chelsea Domond, along with super sophomores Corrine Dente and Claudia Benz. Their wide-open play has led to some wild contests. Westhill has won one game and tied two others when allowing three or more goals, including the wild 4-4 draw with Staples after trailing, 4-0, with 30 minutes left.
Teams tend to get more conservative in the postseason, but the feeling here is coach Dave Flower is going to continue to tap what has worked. And the Vikings’ lone losses were 2-0 decisions to the top two seeds.
The Dangerous Low Seed
Darien. The Blue Wave really excel in just one area: effort. That is a pretty good quality. They are physical and tough in the air, but don’t stand out in one particular part of the game. The tradeoff is they are not weak anywhere either.
It was easy to dismiss Darien when it was 6-0-3 but had played just two teams that would qualify for the tournament: a 1-0 win over No. 7 Trumbull and tie with No. 8 Fairfield Warde. Then came three straight losses to high seeds.
But the Blue Wave rebounded to defeat St. Joseph and tie Westhill. They are the pesky kind of team that hounds you into mistakes. And maybe I am reading too much into this after seeing Darien just once, but Emma Lesko’s vocal leadership made a lasting impression.
I Hate Making Predictions But…
Ridgefield. Everyone knows I hate predicting the outcome of high school games and seldom do. Kids feel if you pick against them they are being insulted. If you read my boys soccer preview, you saw the aforementioned two sentences, but for consistency I am taking that walk out on the limb again.
I am so tempted to pick St. Joseph, both because of how it played the Tigers the first time and because the talent on the team has been undervalued.
If the two teams meet again in the final, it would be almost a reverse storyline from last year. Having covered the Tigers for the past year, this is a special bunch, the mindset and personalities the equal to ability.
In a big spot I just think the returning Ridgefield starters will summon the resolve needed to defend their title.