RIDGEFIELD — The good news for the Darien girls soccer team on Thursday is it proved the ability to compete on close terms with the current standard-bearer in the FCIAC.
On most days, the Blue Wave would have earned the desired result. But taking down undefeated Ridgefield, the defending conference champion, requires a near flawless performance, and in that respect Darien fell just short.
Molly Nethercott scored in the 27th minute and came up with the key defensive play, in the second half, to lead the Tigers to a 1-0 victory.
Both coaches rightfully came away feeling positive.
“It has been a good run,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said. “It has been a good few weeks. Obviously Darien gave us a tough battle. Today was a physical battle and I thought we lost a lot of 50-50 balls. Darien is big and powerful but obviously even with losing the 50-50s we were able to create a lot of chances and maybe not score many goals but get the win.”
The Blue Wave came in with a 6-0-3 mark but with an attached asterisk pinned on by others who questioned the strength of their schedule. Thursday marked the beginning of a stretch where they play five straight games against the teams that have the most points outside of themselves.
Blue Wave coach Leigh Parsons and his players left Tiger Hollow confident.
“We played against a team that was 8-0 and we gave them a pretty good run for the money,” Parsons said. “There were periods where we had them pinned in their end and we gave them a lot of problems. You have to give them credit, they’re a great team for a reason. They did well last year and they’re the same sort of team this year. The thing for us is we came in and proved we can play with them.”
The loss ended a run of eight straight shutouts by Darien goalkeeper Chrissie Fiore and her defense, which had not allowed a goal since the season-opening 6-1 win over Greenwich.
Ridgefield has had to play from behind just twice this season, including Tuesday’s 2-1 decision over Wilton. It was almost forced into that position again when the Blue Wave’s Laura Murphy struck the post in the 9th minute.
The Tigers’ Alex Damron and Katie Jasminski had chances in the first half, but it took a player better known for her defensive prowess to break the deadlock.
Damron’s corner kick was batted around in the air, with Jasminski getting a header off the crossbar. The ball caromed out in front and Nethercott was there to head it into the goal.
“Katie headed it right across and I saw a wide open goal,” Nethercott said.
While that play likely proved to be the most memorable by Nethercott, equally important was the one on the other end in the 64th minute. The Blue Wave moved the ball and it appeared Katie Ramsey was going to come in with just goalkeeper Julia Middlebrook standing between her and an equalizer. But Nethercott went to the ground to break up the play.
“I saw that she was about to take a shot and I had to do whatever I could to get over there, so I slid to keep her from shooting because that could have been an easy goal and tied up,” Nethercott said.
The Tigers have allowed just three goals all season. The back row played well again, with Kathryn Barlow also standing out and the midfielders preventing the Blue Wave attack from getting much penetration.
“Defensively we were strong,” Golding said. “Darien didn’t create too many clear-cut chances but when they did we were able to step up and do a good job. Everyone helps, not just the four defenders. It is a good team effort.”
Darien’s size presented a different test for the Tigers.
“You just have to adjust to who you are playing,” Nethercott said. “They are really tall, they are really physical so we just had to play up, hold our ground and keep competing no matter what happened.”
The Blue Wave started just three seniors, with Emma Lesko playing another strong all-around game. It has been the play of contributing underclassmen that has made them a contender.
Asked if the team has matured quicker than expected, Parsons said, “It’s difficult to say. We think most seasons on our day we can give most teams a game. This year it has come together. You can always say it is a team performance, it is a cliche, but we play as a true team.”
The Tigers are also in the midst of a difficult stretch. They will face four games in seven days, including back to back matches with St. Joseph and Westhill, the other remaining unbeaten teams.
The game with the Cadets will be a rematch of last year’s FCIAC final, and while Nethercott said the team has flourished by taking no opponent lightly, playing St. Joseph again has been anticipated since the schedule was released.
“They’ve always been on our back, they have always been ahead of us other seasons and now we’re ahead of them so we are looking forward to playing them,” Nethercott said. “We always talk about St. Joe’s and Warde. Those are the two teams that we always want to beat.”