NORWALK — Alicia Hill does not get the same amount of publicity as some of the other hitters on the Ridgefield volleyball team, but she is representative of the collective effort that propelled the Tigers to the Class LL semifinals for the first time.
On Wednesday night, Hill came through with two of the biggest plays that helped the Tigers rally from a two-set deficit for a dramatic 15-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-17, 15-9 win over top-seeded Greenwich.
“It was just adrenaline,” Hill said. “I’m just so happy we won. I knew we could do it. We were just slow the first two games. We wanted to win so badly.”
The fourth-seeded Tigers (21-3) will play Stamford in an all-FCIAC title game on Saturday afternoon. Ridgefield won the regular-season meeting but was eliminated by the Black Knights, the eventual champions, in the conference semifinals.
“It’s all heart,” said Elizabeth Middlebrook, the Tigers’ co-captain and top hitter. “We fought every point. We want to play as a group of friends, as a team and as a family. We play for each other. This team will do anything to stay alive. ”
Those last words were put to the test before the third set. The first two were almost a reprisal of the teams’ regular-season meeting, a three-set sweep by Greenwich (20-3). The Cardinals got strong hitting from Morgan Rafferty and dug up everything the Tigers sent at them, leading to a run of unforced errors. The second set was especially disheartening for Ridgefield as there were 12 ties until Greenwich pulled away.
And Ridgefield’s season was on the verge of the ultimate disappointment in the third set when, after a Middlebrook bullet, Greenwich fought off four straight set points to tie the score at 24-24.
Enter Hill. Her kill stabilized the Tigers and then Middlebrook served out the game to keep the match alive.
“Alicia actually came in here and executed and played to the best of her ability,” Middlebrook said. “That’s what she can do.”
Ridgefield stormed out to a 15-6 lead in the fourth set and had seized the momentum. But Greenwich chipped away, a combination of Rafferty’s net play and some hitting errors by the Tigers. The Cardinals got within 17-14 when Hill came through again, unleashing another powerful hit to end a five-point run. Middlebrook then delivered three kills, the last for the final point that evened the match.
“Alicia Hill did a great job in the middle,” Ridgefield coach Lidania Cibere said. “She opened it up. She started putting balls down. She doesn’t get a lot of attention but we have a lot of girls on this team who, on any given night, it can be their night.”
The teams were tied at 9-9 in the final set when Caroline Curnal, who had another outstanding match, both with her strong hitting and reliable digging, took over with a kill, block and then delivering the clinching point with a forceful hit.
“It was unreal. We just had to keep our minds focused,” Curnal said. “We knew coming in here that it would definitely be a difficult game for us. We had to get that one pass and get side-out quickly. Play as a team, play with that urgency and go after every ball and that really helped us. After those first two sets our season was on the line, and after we won that first set we knew tonight was supposed to be our night.”
Greenwich saw its outstanding season end two wins shy of both league and state titles.
“That third game was rough,” Greenwich coach Steve Lapham said. “We got back to 24 and I thought we were doing great. It’s a lousy feeling. We are all in shock right now. They work so hard every day. The digs they put up is a normal thing in our practice. It’s a shame we couldn’t put some of those balls down but you have to hand it to Ridgefield, they kept the pressure on us, they didn’t give up when they were down two.”
Setter Katie Linekin was integral to the comeback, getting good balls to her hitters, while Nicole Nielsen and Valerie Johnson led the defense.
It was the reason the words “team effort” were used by Cibere and her players after the win.
“It was nothing different. Play together, play as a team and we’ve got this,” Cibere said of the rally. “Remember your roles, play to the best of you ability and we’ve got this. It wasn’t anything more. I think we just finally started putting the ball away and Nicole Nielsen started playing really good defense. She picked up a few balls and all of a sudden I think that rattled them and then getting side-out quickly. Greenwich is a great team. They play excellent defense and Rafferty is a great player.”
Curnal said the way the Tigers won gave the accomplishment added significance.
“Absolutely,” Curnal said. “It made it more special. We just had to play as a team. That’s going to carry us on Saturday.”