Girls Soccer Tournament Preview: A Stacked Field, With No Clear-Cut Favorite

Ridgefield’s Claire Middlebrook (4) has been one of the leaders of the two-time defending league champion’s defense. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

Jon Bradley’s job prior to becoming the boys soccer coach at Darien was in the same position with the Brien McMahon girls team. As part of the Darien Athletic Foundation’s new in-house streaming service, Bradley said he has worked as the analyst for seven of the Blue Wave’s girls games.

So perhaps it was unsurprising that when Bradley was asked to analyze the FCIAC boys soccer tournament, he made an unprompted segue.

“I think the fields are the same,” Bradley said. “The boys and the girls are the same. The parity in both leagues this year is nuts.”

If there has been a common theme to the conference’s fall sports season, it has been the concurrent balance in both boys and girls soccer, volleyball and field hockey. There are no obvious favorites and no low seeds that can easily be dismissed as having no chance at winning one, two or perhaps even three games and a title.

Girls soccer might be the most shining example. Most of Tuesday’s final regular season games were postponed 24 hours because of rain, but Darien played and defeated Norwalk, leaving four schools starting yesterday with 36 points. Three of them, along with Fairfield Warde, which started the day just two points behind, were facing each other, which left several schools in a position of finishing as the top seed or perhaps dropping to fifth and playing a quarterfinal road game.

The field was not finalized until 9 last night, after Warde’s 2-0 win over Ridgefield. The Tigers would have been the top seed with a win, and instead fell to the fourth spot. Staples, St. Joseph and Warde, in that order, grabbed the first three positions.

Fairfield Ludlowe and Wilton had what was essentially a play-in game to get the eighth seed yesterday, with the Warriors gaining the win. Other than the benefits of a first-round game at home, seedings are almost irrelevant. Most coaches over the past week have agreed there were no teams they either most wanted to play or avoid.

Sophie Sudano and Wilton are one of the tournament sleepers. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

If every school played its very best game, most agree St. Joseph might have the most talent, but it has gone 2-1-3 in its last six games. Wilton was considered a contender coming into the year, got hit hard by injuries but has gone 5-1-1 in the last seven contests. A visit from the Warriors hardly seems a just reward for Staples’ grueling accomplishment of winning the regular-season title, but tomorrow they will be without Paisley Eagan and Lindsay Groves, who were ejected from yesterday’s game after an altercation with a Ludlowe player.

“I think the top eight, and Wilton, are as good as anybody,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said before yesterday’s games. “Most of the losses this season, there have been no blowouts. All the top teams are beating each other. It has all been pretty close games.”

The nine teams that started yesterday still alive for a playoff berth had a combined 22 ties. The Wreckers at the time were the only school without a draw, but their 12 victories tied Warde for most in the league.

“In the games where we’ve won, I feel we won the physical battle and have been trying to play the right way by possessing the ball and creating opportunities,” Beattie said. “We may have more losses than some of the other teams but we have more wins. We didn’t end up getting the results we wanted on some of the games we ended up losing, but that’s the way it is.”

In terms of the playoff field, there are few if any teams that underachieved and cost themselves a bid. If you are looking for the biggest storylines, one has to be Brien McMahon, which is the 7th seed and making the first appearance by a school from Norwalk in the tournament. The Senators’ rise, though, was not unexpected. The talk a year ago was of an influx of talented young players — including Peyton McNamara and Chloe Ortolano — who were poised to carry the program into contention. The Senators have three wins and tie against the other seven playoff teams.

Girls Soccer Quarterfinals
No. 1 Staples vs. No. 8 Wilton, 3:30
No. 2 St. Joseph vs. No. 7 McMahon, 3:30
No. 3 Warde vs. No. 6 Trumbull, 4:30
No. 4 Ridgefield vs. No. 5 Darien, 4:00

Ridgefield, despite being the two-time defending champion, has been a surprise, and Iain Golding will be picking up at least several votes from colleagues as Coach of the Year. The Tigers graduated seven seniors yet are 11-2-3 and had a chance at the top seed. Their defense, led by Claire Middlebrook and Kathryn Barlow, has been a continued strength, while younger players like Caitlin Slaminko and Faith Arnold are among many underclassmen who have stepped up.

The Tigers have had difficulty finishing but have allowed just eight goals and recorded 11 shutouts. That is another narrative that bears watching during the postseason because the defenses have dominated. The Wreckers, 5-1-1 in their last seven games, have conceded eight goals this year, the same as Darien.

Staples’ Ashley Wright (10) and Maia Moscova have helped their teams earn the top two tournament seeds.

And, did we forget about the Cadets, who have been the runners-up to Ridgefield the last two years and have a balanced attack, led by Jessica Mazo at center midfield?

Bradley, before the pairings were determined, said, “The six seed could be Darien, it could be Warde it could be McMahon. The one or two seed in the girls could easily lose.”

Beattie said yesterday’s situation could be foreshadowing for the following week.

“When you saw the schedule, I don’t think you could have predicted games with teams all in the top four,” Beattie said. “You didn’t think there would be one point dividing three or four teams. I don’t really mind playing anybody. There won’t be an easy game at all.”

 

2 Comments

    • An unintended oversight; I apologize. I wrote a preview before the postponements and so much happened on the final day I had to do more rewriting than I anticipated. The girls should have had some kind of mention.

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