STAMFORD — Rebecca Lawrence remembers the feeling a year ago, when the Ridgefield girls basketball team was touted as a likely contender.
The Tigers had to face almost all of the teams that ended up qualifying for the FCIAC Tournament in the first month, got off to a 2-6 start and never recovered.
“It’s hard to come back from a record like that,” said Lawrence, the team’s versatile 6-3 post player. “You think, can we even get back. It was a downer.”
Lawrence said the emphasis this preseason was on not having a repeat of a year ago. In a case of role reversal, the Tigers won nine of their first 10 games before suffering a 53-48 loss to Stamford on Friday night.
“We just work so much harder,” Lawrence said. “We play as a team and we’re willing to work together. Last year we just had trouble making things work as a team.”
The reasons for the turnaround? Ridgefield had a young team last winter and is another year older and wiser. And Tom DiMarzo, after working as an assistant to recently retired Ridgefield boys coach Carl Charles, took over the girls and has shaken things up.
“Coach DiMarzo make a lot of good changes and brought us together,” Lawrence said. “And we’ve made changes on offense and defense, what we’re running. We are doing a better job preparing for teams we are going to play, but more we want them to prepare for us. They have to respect us.”
Despite missing a number of easy shots in the first half, Ridgefield might have come away with the win at Stamford if not for the dynamic play of Tiana England, who scored 25 points and took over the game.
In a year where all the contenders seem to have a strong inside player, Lawrence can hold her own with the best of them, and has the added ability to go outside and hit midrange jumpers.
Another player who impressed: point guard Jess Camarda, who has good court vision and is solid with ball distribution. The rest of the lineup is comprised of solid players.
DiMarzo said he is having a good time in his new situation.
“The guys’ game is a little more above the rim and the boys are a little more athletic, but it’s not that different,” DiMarzo said. “They’re still getting used to me and I’m still getting used to them, but I think it has been a good marriage so far.”
Wilton, Basketball Capital
How many people had Wilton down as the school with the best overall boys and girls programs this year?
A lot can change as we hit the midway point, but the two teams are a combined 16-2.
The girls team was expected to be a contender after losing in the FCIAC championship a year ago. The boys team was expected to be good, but few expected it to be this good.
The outlook for the boys team will have greater clarity in three days, as it must face Stamford and Westhill. A split would be a positive. Two losses may lead some to question the Warriors, but they have the talent to bounce back.
It will be interesting to see what strategies the three coaches employ with matchups.
No. 1 Norwalk (9-0) vs. No. 8 Danbury (6-3). The Bears’ chemistry is much better from the past two years, and Zaire Wilson has taken the next step to being an elite player. They have the best personnel in the league.
No. 2 Westhill (8-1) vs. No. 7 Bridgeport Central (5-3). The Hilltoppers’ youth was apparent in losses to Norwalk and Harding, the latter after they led by 17 points.
No. 3 Wilton (7-1) vs. No. 6 Harding (5-3). The Presidents, a team many were high on at the start of the season, are finally starting to come together.
No. 4 Trumbull (5-2) vs. No. 5 Stamford (6-3). The Black Knights remain the most difficult team to get a read on. Struggling to beat Ridgefield on Friday, even on the road, was not exactly a statement win.
No. 1 Fairfield Warde (9-0) vs. No. 8 Danbury (5-4). Given the level of parity, it is hard to imagine a team making it through the regular season unbeaten, but right now the Mustangs have demonstrated few apparent weaknesses.
No. 2 Wilton (9-1) vs. No. 7 Trumbull (7-3). What does it say about the league that right now a possible 7th seed has just two losses in conference play? The standings are going to shake out over the next few weeks.
No. 3 Stamford (10-1) vs. No. 6 Greenwich (8-2). People keep waiting for the Black Knights to stumble, but guard Tiana England is a game-changer, capable of putting the team on her shoulders.
No. 4 St. Joseph (9-1) vs. No. 5 Ridgefield (9-2). The Cadets are about to embark on the most difficult part of their schedule. We will find out if they are indeed legitimate contenders.