One would think the members of the Staples girls soccer team had tomorrow circled on the calendar since the schedule came out. The Wreckers travel to Ridgefield for a rematch of last year’s Class LL final won by the Tigers 2-1.
But Staples coach Barry Beattie said staying within philosophy, the contest is being viewed as just another one, despite the ramifications.
“No, I don’t think it is a revenge game,” Beattie said. “Ridgefield won the state and was a little better, but we played them three times and beat them twice. I don’t highlight games and say this is the big one. I just say we are playing this team next. Then we’ve got to focus on that. If you focus on one game and undervalue the rest of your opponents you are going to come out with some not positive results. We take it as it comes.”
With due respect to schools like Darien, New Canaan and several others that have played well so far and proved capable of competing at an elite level, this is the week where the top of the standings start getting shaken up. Ridgefield, the only team without a loss or tie, after hosting Staples tomorrow travels on Thursday to St. Joseph. All three schools have yet to suffer a loss.
With the league playoff picture starting to take shape, Beattie, whose team will play St. Joseph on the final day of the regular season in a reprisal of last year’s FCIAC final, the timing is right for the most anticipated games before the postseason.
“It is nice in terms for us, St. Joseph and Ridgefield. It’s nice that we didn’t get each other one of the first games of the season,” Beattie said. “When you play the top teams you want your team to be game fit and sharp and ready for that big challenge. Each time we play Ridgefield we end up beating on each other for the whole game. It is relentless.”
The Tigers incredibly have not allowed a goal in jumping out to a 10-0 start. Their most significant graduation loss from a year ago was Kathryn Barlow, an All-State center back, yet the defense has been even tougher to penetrate. Claire Middlebrook, one of the state’s top players, has again anchored the unit, while Lauren Castle has been great in goal.
Ridgefield has scored 36 goals, but half came in three games against winless sides. Still, it has proved opportunistic.
Last year the Tigers were predicted to take a tumble after winning two straight league titles because of heavy graduation losses. Instead an influx of young talent combined with great chemistry lifted them to their first state championship after two straight defeats in the final.
While many expected Ridgefield to remain strong this fall, Staples and St. Joseph garnered most of the preseason attention. Tigers coach Iain Golding bristled a little at a perceived lack of respect while at the same time being fine operating a bit under the radar.
“Iain has to get some credit,” said Beattie of his former roommate. “It happened last year, oh, he lost this player, he lost this player and then he goes and win states. They say the good Ridgefield teams didn’t win states. I don’t know what that guy has to do there to get some credit. When we talk at the beginning of the season he will play his own team down because that is the type of guy he is.”
Last season the Tigers flourished behind important contributions from underclassmen like Caitlin Slaminko, Faith Arnold, Carolyn Donovan and Megan Klosowski. Golding is again getting quality minutes from freshmen and sophomores and has great depth.
Staples currently sits in second place at 9-0-2. There were draws with Brien McMahon and Wilton.
The Wreckers were a popular pick because of the number of returning starters. Ashley Wright remains a strong finisher, while Reese Sutter and Autumn Smith provide a formidable midfield. Mia Gonzalez is part of a defensive unit that has allowed just three goals.
“They’re hungry,” Beattie said. “They came back a lot fitter this year and with a high level of endurance. We are playing well this year. We’ve had two ties but both ties are a credit to Brien McMahon and Warde for setting themselves up tactically. I’m pretty well with how the season has gone so far.”
Then there is St. Joseph, which is defending both league and state titles. In a sense it has become a victim of its own consistency because the team is always expected to produce at such a high level. The Cadets are 9-0-1 and have been the league’s most explosive team, with 48 goals. They have also conceded just four.
That should make for an interesting contrast when the Cadets host Ridgefield on Thursday. Cadets midfielder Jessica Mazo and Middlebrook would be the leading candidates for MVP at this point. Mazo is a tempo-setter. Maddie Fried has had a great followup to a tremendous freshman season, and most of coach Jack Nogueira’s top players will be returning next year.
If you want to call it a drought, the Wreckers have gone the longest without a league title.
All of four years.
“Basically what we need now is just to go the extra step,” Beattie said. “We need a championship, the same thing Ridgefield has and St. Joseph in Class L. The players believe that’s what we need now and to get to that level. Once you secure a championship you understand the level you need to be at. With the group of players we have, we have a lot of returnees so we are expected to be good. It is more convincing the kids what the next level is.”