Few teams are better equipped than Ridgefield to defend an FCIAC title. The Tigers have as much returning skill as any reigning champion in recent memory. In most years, you could start the trophy engraving now.
But this isn’t most years, one reason during a recent practice up in Tiger Hollow there were no signs that the Ridgefield players feel all they have to do is follow the yellow brick road. As was the case last year, the path is laced with mines.
St. Joseph, the Tigers’ victims in the conference final, lost a lot but remains strong. Same with Fairfield Warde. Staples is again a serious threat.
Some of the best players are underclassmen — see St. Joseph’s Jessica Mazo — or haven’t even suited up yet for their school — keep an eye out for McMahon freshman Peyton McNamara.
Girls soccer is always among the best-played FCIAC sports. This fall will be no different.
Ridgefield. The Tigers arrived a year ahead of schedule, with an incredible 12-game winning streak that carried them to an FCIAC championship win over unbeaten St. Joseph and all the way to the state final, where they put up a spirited battle in a loss to Glastonbury. Almost the entire starting lineup is back, led by field general Alyssa Bonanno at midfield and scoring threats Katie Jasminski (22 goals) and Alex Damron (10 goals). Julia Middlebrook is solid in goal and there are underrated players like defender Molly Nethercott and midfielder Natalie Brassinga (8 assists). Grace Franklin and Claire Middlebrook are also anchors to a stifling defense. The biggest change is assistant Iain Golding taking over for Alex Harrison as head coach. The Tigers have no weaknesses and one gets the sense complacency will not be an issue. Their biggest challenge is a deep and talented league.
St. Joseph. The Cadets almost ran the table unbeaten a year ago, bouncing back from the FCIAC final loss to Ridgefield and capturing a state title. They also were hit hard by graduation losses, including three All-FCIAC players. It will not be easy to replace forward Jenna Bike, who is now at Boston College and was one of the best finishers in league history. But the Cadets’ cupboard is hardly empty. Mazo will be at center midfield and is one of the state’s most heavily recruited players. Forward Lindsey Savko was named to the All-FCIAC team and is headed next year to play at UMass. Bike’s sister Tory will be a key to the defense. This is a hungry group that will need contributions from players cast into bigger roles and two freshmen starters. The Cadets will be a difficult out.
Fairfield Warde. After going 14-1-1 and earning the second seed in the FCIAC Tournament, the Mustangs experienced postseason disappointment, most notably a second-round loss to Hall in the Class LL playoffs after an opening bye. Warde will not be lacking for motivation this fall, and has one of the best 1-2 punches in midfielder Anna Glovin and forward Lauren Tangney. The offense has the potential to be explosive. If the defense remains true, the Mustangs should have much more success come playoff time.
Staples. A year after surprising many by sharing the FCIAC title with Fairfield Warde, Staples tumbled back to the pack last fall, just qualifying for the conference playoffs by a point at 9-6-1 and getting knocked out of both postseason tournaments in the first round. The Wreckers played everyone tough and even had a win over Ridgefield, but it ended up on the wrong side of too many close games. Now they seem poised for a run back up the standings. Staples should control the midfield in most games because of three-year starters Lydia Shaw and Tia Zajec. Morgan McWhirter on defense has also been in the lineup since her freshman year. A repeat of 2014 is certainly not out of the question.
Westhill. The Vikings missed out on the FCIAC playoffs by a point, and have a number of newcomers that will have to step up and play pivotal roles. But explosive scorer Chelsea Domond is back, and along with, Corinne Dente, Natalie Druehl and Claudia Benz could give the team four All-FCIAC players. Westhill may not have enough to win a championship, but after going 1-7 against playoff teams a year ago, it should now end up on the right side of at least a few of those games.
Emma Barefoot, Greenwich
Alyssa Bonanno, Ridgefield
Corinne Dente, Westhill
Chelsea Domond, Westhill
Anna Glovin, Fairfield Warde
Katie Jasminski, Ridgefield
Jessica Mazo, St. Joseph
Lindsey Savko, St. Joseph
Lydia Shaw, Staples
Lauren Tangey, Fairfield Warde
Tia Zajec, Staples
Players To Watch
Danbury: G Rachael DeBellis, D Vivi Corporeal, Christina Syryla, Leah Sarkisian, Ashely Sfaelos, Hayden Turk, Gaia Mistrial, Sara daSilva, Cristina Britton, Jewel Ly, Vanessa Dahomey.
Darien: Emma Lesko, Laura Murphy, Chrissie Fiore, Emily Denunzio, Charlotte Harmon.
Fairfield Ludlowe: Natalie Kelchner, D Heather Smith, D Maya Newton, D Caitlin Schramm, D Bridget Walsh, M Emily Demaso, M Kaleigh Brown, M Maddie Roberto, M Allie Goddard, F Morgan Moltzau, F Peyton Brown.
Fairfield Warde: F Lauren Tangney, F Alexa Montana, F Teresa Andres, M Anna Glovin, M Avery Orachef, M Kaitlyn Walsh, D Courtney Scheetz, D Cara Bebey, D Katie Rigione, D Janey Boldrighini, G Meg Christenson, G Lauren Burns.
Greenwich: G Emma Barefoot, F Kim Kockenmeister, F Katie Gallagher, D Amanda Yu, D Katherine Tracey, Melanie Murphy, Willow Wolfe.
Brien McMahon: D Amanda Barker, D Maddie Dunn, D Olivia Leone, D Jane Matson, D Bella Beane, M Marisa Slowik, M Peyton McNamara, M Emma Hargrove, M Hannah Towey, F Chloe Ortolan.
New Canaan: F Madison Starr, M Kelly McClymonds, D Abby Crowley, M Braeden Dial, M Julia Ozimek.
Norwalk: G Imelda Lazaro, D Kaitlyn Troy, D Caila DeGrandi, D Clara Lazaro, M Melissa Guzman, M Brenda Garcia, M Kailey Kotulsky, M Julia Sferlazza, M Jenna Smeriglio, F Madyson Suda, F Kelly Halloran.
Ridgefield: G Julia Middlebrook, D Claire Middlebrook, D Molly Nethercott, D Kathryn Barlow, D Grace Franklin, MF Alyssa Bonanno, MF Natalie Brassinga, F Alex Damron, F Katie Jasminski.
St. Joseph: D Tory Bike, D Hailey Vecharelli, D Christina DiCesare, D Alexis Mason, F Lindsey Savko, F Julia DiCesare, F Sophie Smith, M Jessica Mazo, M Miranda Quint, M Maia Moscova.
Stamford: Fabiano Bueno, M Erica Steitzel, Karina Romero, Kaitlyn Filanowski, Dana Serricchio, M Juliana Burke, M Karina Romero, G Adriana DelTorto, F Chenille Assevero, F Natalie Widmer.
Staples: G Anna Sivinski, G Cameron Ragland, D Olivia Ronca, D Morgan McWhirter, D Erin McGroarty, D Annie Amacker, M Sally Magee, M Erin Lynch, M Tia Zajec, M Lydia Shaw, M Grace Wynne, F Charlotte Rossi, F Ashley Wright.
Trinity Catholic: Lily Shanahan, Caitlin Olivetti, Keri Gallagher.
Trumbull: G Maryna Barone, G Avery Rice, D Jess Esposito, D Eva Solano, D Kristen Pagliaro, D Amelia Crosley, M Brady Lynch, M Becca Crosley, M Jillian Presser, F Meghan Ahern, F Daniela Milovanov, F Meghan Lesko, F Skylar Jorge.
Westhill: G Emily Pritchard, G Niamh Keogh, D Lily Gubernick, D Erica Shaulse, D Fran McDonald, D Casey Watson, D Caroline Stanton, M Natalie Druehl, M Nicole Pipera, M Emma Cali, M Claudia Benz, M Corinne Dente, M Chelsea Cappello, F Alex Fischer, F Chelsea Domond.
Wilton: Ashley Viteralli, Lindsay Groves, Zoe Lash, G Taylor Floyd, Chloe Zimmerman, Andrea Benalcazar, Ally Dejana, Brady Faria, Sophie Sudano.