NORWALK — The faces change but the clean sheets continue for the Ridgefield girls soccer team.
Despite a second straight season having to replace an All-State defender, the Tigers have remained relentless protecting their goal. In a game reminiscent of a year ago, when the defense was the dominating force, Ridgefield tonight had to wait out the offense to remain perfect.
That came in the 73rd minute, when Tasha Riek finished a relentless attack off a corner kick to give Ridgefield a 1-0 win at Brien McMahon.
The Tigers have won the last two Class LL titles and are defending FCIAC champions.
Asked if his players have just become conditioned in finding ways to win, Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said, “It all comes down to their attitude, their mentality. A lot of the players want to do that and against a very good Brien McMahon team some things are difficult. They made it very difficult for us and we scored a very nice goal at the end.”
The winning goal came off a Caitlin Slaminko corner kick. It went to the far side, where Megan Klosowski headed the ball off the crossbar. Riek was positioned to head the rebound into the net.
“We know how we play,” said Carolyn Donovan, the leader of the back line. “We don’t need to force it. We know it will come if we play the way we play. We knew it was going to come.”
Two years ago the Tigers (7-0) conceded nine goals. Last year that total was reduced to four. So far an opponent has not gotten a shot by goalkeeper Kelly Chittenden.
Donovan has picked up the mantle this year as long-term senior leader. She said she has learned from the best. Two years ago Ridgefield had a pair of All-State center backs, Kathryn Barlow and Claire Middlebrook, who provided the presence last season.
“I learned so much from them,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot from Kathryn. She was so supportive and encouraging. And then Claire taught me how to be calm and determined the entire game. That helped me a lot. We work on communication a lot. I know for me, losing Claire last year, she was the one who was communicating a lot so this year I have been working a lot on communicating more. That’s been helping us flow a lot better on defense this year. And we have really good camaraderie with each other.”
The Tigers have flourished despite having a freshman, Charlotte Kemp, at center back.
“She’s so eager to learn,” Donovan said. “It’s really easy to work together. We’ve been working on pressing together and everyone has been working really hard because they know they want to work for these spots.”
The Ridgefield defense was focused on the McMahon player who is at the top of opponents’ scouting reports, Peyton McNamara. How she was guarded depended on where she was on the field.
The Tigers did a good job, though McNamara remained dangerous on set pieces.
There were surprisingly few good chances in a game that was played mostly at the middle of the field. The best, in the 26th minute, came from the Senators’ Viviana Luna, whose hard shot on the ground was stopped by Chittenden.
Ridgefield’s only other good opportunity also came in the first half, a beautiful ball played by Faith Arnold to Slaminko. But Samantha Farrar, the Senators’ freshman keeper, came out and smothered the ball just ahead of Slaminko.
McMahon is now 4-2. Playing the Tigers on equal terms would have been sufficient just a few years ago. Not anymore.
“I thought both teams played even,” McMahon coach Angelo Tsingerliotis said. “They had a lot more chances with the number of free kicks that we gave them. We just slipped up for that 10-second period. You can’t play well for 79 minutes and 50 seconds against a good team like this. We needed to finish our chances that we had. We didn’t. It’s frustrating. I’m not one to say good loss, we played well. I think we’re one of the top teams and we expect to win every game we play, but there were definitely some positives.”
In Donovan, Klosowski and Slaminko, the Tigers have a captain on every unit. Golding credited them for the team’s hot start.
“Right now, for me, the props have to go to the captains,” Golding said. “Having the three captains at the positions they are, the girls lead by example and the others learn from them. That’s helping us build a successful program.”