RIDGEFIELD — She earned playing time as a freshman on a team full of senior starters that would go on to advance to the state final for the second straight season.
Now Class LL championships have become an annual rite for the Ridgefield girls soccer team, and Caitlin Slaminko has been a common bond. The Tigers, remarkably, have played in four straight, winning the last two. Slaminko has grown from a role player into one of the best in the state.
“When she came as a freshman she was more of a center midfielder and the team she came on was senior oriented, so she got minutes here and there playing forward to try and get her some experience on the field,” recalled Iain Golding, who was elevated from assistant to head coach the same year Slaminko arrived. “Over the last two years she’s developed into a tremendous forward. When she’s on form she can take on any defense that we play against.”
As Ridgefield opens the Class LL tournament today at home against Conard, Slaminko is coming to terms knowing that her affair with a sport she grew up with will end sometime over the next 11 days, hopefully one last time playing on the final day of the season.
“Knowing that I’m never going to be playing soccer again after this season is an odd feeling,” Slaminko said. “It will be a little different with lacrosse but soccer, I’ve always played soccer my whole life. It has been my main sport for a lot of years when I was younger so to know that this could be my last game is an odd feeling. It motivates me because I don’t want my season to end on a low note.”
Slaminko is an All-American lacrosse player who is committed to Cornell. She referred to some of the top captains she grew up learning from as town legends, a status that Slaminko then has also earned.
Despite being perhaps the first focal point for opponents, Slaminko, with 11 goals and 12 assists, leads the Tigers (15-1-3) in scoring. Last season she finished with 18 goals and 13 assists.
Slaminko grew up playing center midfield before having her position changed as a freshman. A gifted athlete who could excel at almost any sport, she soon owned her new spot on the field.
“She’s good with the ball, she’s technical, she can win headers, she’s physical, she’s aggressive, she wants to get by people, she can score goals and has a lot of desire to do what’s needed,” Golding said, offering a pretty thorough checklist.
Slaminko and the Tigers made it through the regular season unbeaten. Their first experience with defeat came eight days ago, in an overtime loss to St. Joseph, also without a loss at the time, in the semifinal round of the FCIAC Tournament. The deciding goal came on a late penalty kick. It denied the Tigers the chance to win a second straight championship.
“It was an emotional hardship for everyone,” Slaminko said. “We all care so much about defending the title and I feel like with the regular season we hadn’t lost yet but that we had so many ties showed we are pretty equal in skill to the top teams. It is how much effort you put in and how well you play that certain day. It was really hard walking away from that but it could have gone either way honestly. One little shot or if the ref hadn’t called that call or if we had played a little better it could have been different. St. Joe’s gave us a hard match and played well too. It was tough coming away with a loss and knowing it’s my senior year and last FCIAC tournament.”
Slaminko is one of the Tigers’ three captains, a position she said she has been well trained for in both of her sports.
“I’ve played with very good players and leaders and I’ve learned what I would like my leaders to be like with different captains with lacrosse and soccer,” Slaminko said. “Every captain has been good for different reasons. Playing with Katie J (Jasminski) as a freshman and Caroline Curnal for multiple years and Claire Middlebrook, who just left. Kind of crazy I got to play with them because they’re kind of legends at Ridgefield now.”
Still, in Slaminko’s personal poll of favorite sports lacrosse holds a slim edge in the top position.
“I’ve always been lacrosse,” Slaminko said. “I’m not extremely confident in my soccer skills so I’ve never known if I could play. Lacrosse I just feel I had more opportunities. I’ve always liked lacrosse slightly better but I love soccer.”
Slaminko said playing for the Westchester Elite club team helped sharpen her lacrosse skills. As accomplished in the classroom — she hopes to go into the medical field — as on the field, Slaminko said it wasn’t difficult giving a verbal commitment to Cornell on the first official day.
“I think it was a pretty automatic choice for me,” Slaminko said. “I did my research early on and I figured out what I liked in schools and what I didn’t like, and the coaching staff is amazing there. The academics are great.”
Slaminko said no matter how these final days play out, there will be nothing but pleasant memories.
“We just need to keep going, keep working for states now,” Slaminko said. “The team has made it so enjoyable. Having a good team and being successful helps. I love all my teammates and my coaches. I want to walk away being happy. I definitely would be if we were to lose. I’ve been so lucky the last four years having such a good team to play on. Like so fortunate. It definitely motivated me this year knowing it’s my last season of my soccer career. It’s bittersweet.”