RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield girls soccer coach Iain Golding deviated from past team custom when he named Kathryn Barlow captain not long after a season in which the Tigers again won an FCIAC title and reached the Class LL championship game had ended.
That decision is usually made closer to informal summer workouts. But to wait, Golding knew, would be delaying the inevitable. With seven senior starters graduating, Barlow was an obvious choice, both because of her play on the field and her leadership off of it.
“With the group we had last year, which was senior oriented, Kathryn deserved to be captain, which is why we named her so early,” said Golding, who is about to begin his second season as the Tigers’ head coach after first serving for a year as Alex Harrison’s assistant. “We wanted to reward her for everything she has done for us over the last few years.”
Six of the seniors were named to the All-FCIAC first or second teams, and the seventh, like Barlow, was an honorable mention selection. With her dogged defensive style and penchant for winning 50-50 balls, Barlow may have been Ridgefield’s most unsung player.
“She definitely made a big impact on the field and she was underrated,” said Molly Nethercott, one of the three Ridgefield players who earned first team honors and was the leader of a defense that allowed just eight goals until a 4-1 loss in the Class LL final to Glastonbury. “Losing pretty much the entire starting lineup, naming her captain was a good idea because she has a lot of experience with the varsity team, knows what’s expected at that level and she’s going to help the transition with new players and old players,” added Nethercott, who will play this season at Syracuse.
Barlow made the varsity team as a freshman and was a spot starter before taking over a permanent position the past two years. She was among the leaders in minutes played. It was an impressive effort by a player who earned prominence in the town’s youth leagues as a forward before being moved to the backfield by Harrison.
“I was the person who scored the goals,” Barlow said. “I didn’t like it at first at all because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I trusted Coach Alex and I could tell he saw something and he told me you’re going to be a good defender. Molly helped me and I spent so much time practicing becoming a defender, I soon didn’t dislike it and learned to love it.”
Barlow’s father is a former Ridgefield player. Despite her overall athletic ability, Barlow has played no other sports. She is on the field — or playing indoors in the winter — 11 months a year.
“I’ve always been soccer only,” Barlow said. “I just really enjoyed it and it just took off from there.”
Barlow said it was slightly unexpected to earn a varsity spot her first season at Ridgefield, playing with a team comprised of players who had been together for almost all of their soccer careers.
“I remember I was nervous that I wasn’t going to, but I also had a belief that I could do this,” Barlow recalled. “I was working so hard but I was also so scared that I would be JV because there weren’t a lot of open spots, so I was a little bit surprised. I was happy. I was also really nervous going into it because these girls were all amazing. They’re all best friends but they all included me immediately. I was the only freshman but I also played with a lot of them on my club team with Coach Alex, so that helped me to know the girls.”
Barlow’s teammates thought she could become an instant contributor.
“She was definitely one of the younger girls we knew best because I had played club with her, and we knew what potential she had and what a good player she was,” Nethercott said.
After coaching her for the past two seasons, Golding said he has come to appreciate Barlow’s instincts.
“She’s been a solid performer for us for a number of years,” he said. “She’s got a very good understanding of the game. She knows when to stay up and when to drop off. She always knows what needs to be done.”
Ridgefield is coming off two outstanding seasons, with victories over St. Joseph in the conference finals before state championship losses to Glastonbury, which is currently on a 60-match winning streak.
“I’m so grateful,” Barlow said. “I will remember it forever. Playing in the FCIACs was the best thing. Making state finals twice. It makes it so much easier to go to practice every day because it gets hard late when it is freezing. It makes it so easy because you’re winning, it’s easy, it’s fun. You’re not losing games. It is so much more fun when it is competitive.”
Barlow said she tends to raise her play during the most important matches.
“I don’t like losing,” Barlow said. “I’m very competitive. I think I play my best in the harder games because it’s intense and there is something about it that gets your adrenaline going. I’m aggressive and I get mad easily. If somebody makes me mad I focus and I say I’m not going to let her get by me now, that’s not going to work. If I don’t have a good game I know it’s because I’m not focusing, so when I play a game I make sure I am fully focused.”
Barlow said she has already heard the whispers that because of the graduating talent, this will be a rebuilding season for the Tigers.
“I definitely get a sense of that,” Barlow said. “Even Ridgefield is a little nervous for us. I was even a little bit, uh oh, we are losing a lot of people. I’m not nervous any more.”
The Tigers should remain strong on defense, with another outstanding player in Claire Middlebrook also back to help anchor. Anna Landler, Emma Jacobsen and Erika Linke were strong contributors and Lauren Castle is a promising goalkeeper. Barlow said there are a number of freshmen and sophomores whose names will soon become very familiar.
“I want to do so well this year and I think we’re going to,” Barlow said. “We have great young players. There are definitely a lot that are going to surprise people.”
Barlow said she is looking forward to having an increased role that extends beyond her play in the backfield.
“I’m happy I’m captain,” she said. “I trust myself to be able to keep everyone together and to work. I trust all the girls coming. I think they’re all going to be great. They all know their place and they know what they have to do. They are ready for this because they have been waiting on the bench and they have been watching and know what their responsibility is. I need to be able to make sure we come together and play as a team.”
Because state rules prohibit coaches from working with their players in the offseason, Barlow will oversee the informal training sessions teams hold during the summer months.
“She will help get the younger kids ready,” Golding said. “It’s a very positive move for us and we think she’s going to do very well for us.”