The fall season heads to the homestretch this week, with the final rounds of state tournament play in several sports. Two of the more interesting stories are taking place in the northern part of the FCIAC, where both the Danbury boys soccer and Ridgefield volleyball teams are two wins away from CIAC titles.
It seems to me…Like most everyone, I did not think by Sunday morning there would be just one FCIAC boys soccer team left standing. And I’m pretty certain at the beginning of the Class LL Tournament, few figured that side would be Danbury.
In a playoff where convention has not held, the Hatters will face Shelton in the semifinals Tuesday night at Fairfield Ludlowe after a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Trumbull. Farmington, which eliminated Danbury the last two seasons, including a win in the 2014 semifinals, is the highest remaining seed at No. 4. It will face No. 16 Fairfield Prep in the other semifinal.
Shelton is No. 7 and Danbury is No. 11.
Many FCIAC observers were expecting — and silently hoping for — a semifinal between No. 2 Greenwich and No. 3 Trumbull. This was by no means an anti-Hatter backlash; the Cardinals and Eagles both were unbeaten and had played to a pair of ties, including in the FCIAC final.
A third meeting would have finally produced a clear-cut winner. But on what turned out to be Black Saturday for the conference, Greenwich lost to Shelton in the morning. And just as Danbury and Trumbull were kicking off, Staples was the victim of a late goal and a 1-0 defeat to Farmington.
Then the Hatters got off to a near-flawless start against Trumbull, scoring twice in the first 21 minutes and then adding a pair of late scores after the Eagles had made it a one-goal game.
“I thought we played well,” Danbury coach Antony Howard said. “I thought the first 20 minutes we were outstanding. It was the first time in three games we opened them up a little bit, and not many teams have done that.”
Trumbull had won the teams’ previous two meetings, including a 3-2 win in the FCIAC semifinals when goalkeeper Jonathan Campbell deflected a bullet by Ricardo Rodriguez right before the final whistle over the crossbar.
Howard said the loss helped to recalibrate his players for the state tournament.
“The FCIAC semifinal I thought we played well,” Howard said. “We didn’t do enough to beat them that day but we played well. We came away from it saying we are playing good stuff so we’re happy.”
Slow starts have been one of the few negatives for the Hatters, who are highly skilled but lack size.
The Eagles were devastated by the outcome. The team met for 20 minutes afterward, with players and coaches taking turns talking and sharing memories.
Meanwhile now it is left to the Hatters to carry the FCIAC banner.
“I think we caught them on a little bit of a down day, which we needed to do,” Howard said. “I honestly believe they are the best team we faced this year and it’s a shame it ends this way for them.”
It seems to me…The Ridgefield volleyball team has been overshadowed this fall at the school and wants to seize the opportunity it has to add to the trophy case.
The girls cross country team has swept league, Class LL and State Open titles. The girls soccer team won its second straight conference championship and is two wins away from returning to the state final. The girls swim team won its first FCIAC title. And on Friday night the football team defeated Greenwich and is a win away from a state playoff berth.
Less noticed is the Ridgefield volleyball team reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history with a five-set win over Brien McMahon, which lost in the FCIAC final, on Saturday night.
Tigers setter Katie Linekin was one of many players unaware of the significance of their latest victory.
“When we found out it was a really nice feeling to boost out confidence,” Linekin said.
With a 20-3 mark, the Tigers have a record that would be the envy of almost any other team in the state. However, in what has been a banner fall, there are four other teams at the school with fewer losses.
Ridgefield finished as the No. 2 seed in the FCIAC Tournament. In Wednesday’s semifinal match, it will face Greenwich, which was the top seed. It is a battle of schools that fell a victory short of reaching the conference final.
“I think we have had a successful season and I’m pretty proud of that,” Linekin said. “I hope with the season the soccer team has had and what the girls cross country team has done, that it will boost our confidence and help us create the win we need against Greenwich, and then whoever we would play next.”
The Tigers are hardly taking anything for granted. They were swept by the Cardinals in the regular season, 25-14, 25-16, 25-22. Linekin has a strong arsenal of hitters, led by Elizabeth Middlebrook and Caroline Curnal. Alicia Hill is another solid player at net, while seniors Valerie Johnson and Hannah McNeece make strong contributions.
Greenwich is one of the state’s best defensive teams. Linekin said the offense will have to function the way it did against McMahon.
“The first time we played Greenwich we were not playing as a team, we were not communicating,” Linekin said. “I think if we played how we did yesterday we can beat pretty much any team. We were very aggressive, which helps a lot too. Greenwich is a good team and they have a good defense. I think if we hit the way we did yesterday we can get a win.”