STAMFORD — Ridgefield volleyball coach Lidania Cibere had a list of areas where she thought her team could have executed better following today’s match against Stamford.
Considering, save for one or two elements, how dominant the Tigers appeared to others in their 3-0 win, the rest of the state should shudder at the idea of her players getting Cibere’s complete seal of approval.
“They’re a great team,” Stamford coach Mike Smeriglio said after being on the wrong end of a 25-19, 26-24, 25-16 decision. “They might be the best team in the state. Because they have a lot of returning players and they just did what they wanted today.”
Smeriglio said he voted the Tigers No. 1 in the state poll, and that goal is certainly attainable. This was a rematch of last year’s state final, which the Black Knights won. Caroline Curnal gave Ridgefield a dominant returning player, but the focus was also on the talent the team lost to graduation.
It turns out that Ridgefield (3-0) has a strong group ready to take over. Mackenzie Wanicka and Alicia Hill help form a formidable front row, while Lauren Thrasher has been outstanding at setter. Cibere also has numbers and quality on the back row.
“Curnal is definitely the leader on the court, and everyone’s going to talk about her, but I think Lauren, who sat the bench all last year, waiting her time, is doing a great job connecting with the hitters,” Cibere said. “I have depth in the defense department and the hitting department.”
The match featured two of the state’s best players, Curnal and Stamford’s Andrea O’Connor, and both were dominant. Curnal, despite the Tigers’ occasional lapses in serve receive, got more touches, and the players around her performed at a higher level.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on obviously, but they seem like they are in midseason form,” Smeriglio said. “I think for this time of year, I haven’t seen anyone this good.”
Curnal finished with 16 kills and 7 digs. Wanicka added 10 kills, Thrasher had 32 assists and 5 service points and Amanda Condron ended up with 11 service points. Hill had 5 kills.
“A lot of people thought that we lost a lot of players, but we had a deep bench last year,” Curnal said. “That really is going to help us and a lot of girls are ready to play.”
With the score tied at 11-11 in the opening set, the Tigers distanced themselves following a six-point service run by Condron. A kill by Curnal closed out the game.
Stamford (2-2) jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the second game behind outstanding play from O’Connor, who had three of her 18 kills and two blocks in the sequence.
The Tigers chipped away behind three powerful spikes by Curnal. After O’Connor deposited a weak return for a 15-13 lead, Ridgefield went ahead with a four-point run, aided by a hit off a block by Wanicka, a Curnal kill and an ace by Thrasher.
Neither team led by more than two points down the stretch, and two Stamford errors at 24-24 closed out the set.
Asked if she was motivated by O’Connor’s strong play to counter, Curnal said, “It’s just natural. I believe it’s my time and someone has to step up. She did a great job for her team but I think we have the other five players who make us a unit. We all started playing great. The second set we were down by a lot but we all knew we had to pick it up, we had to go on a run and we did.”
“I wasn’t that happy with the way we played, I thought we should have played better, but we came back from behind in that second set, we played like a team and it’s only our third game of the season,” Cibere said.
The Tigers started a week later than the rest of the conference because they were unable to find any non-league games to fill their schedule. It was frustrating, but Curnal said a negative was turned into a positive.
“I think it will benefit us in the long run,” Curnal said. “The more you practice the better you are going to play. We had a lot of kinks we needed to work on so that extra week really helped a lot.”
Cibere said she downplayed the rematch storyline with her players, who appear to have the opportunity to go even farther than last year’s team in the league and state playoffs.
“We are trying to build our own success and our own story,” Cibere said. “I definitely thought our passing was not that great today, I don’t think that we played that great. But the good thing is we never backed down, and that’s good to see early in the season.”