WESTPORT--In a back-and-forth contest with one of the FCIAC's best programs, the Staples girls lacrosse team refused to succumb to the pressure-packed situation.
Once Nicki Najarian broke a 10-10 tie with 7:22 left in the second half, the Wreckers dug in and secured a win that was likely unattainable for the same group a year ago.
Senior Meredith Hood scored four goals and juniors Paige Murray and Najarian each fired hat tricks as Staples defeated Ridgefield 14-12 in the season opener for both teams on Friday afternoon at Ginny Parker Field.
"Last year I felt like it got in our heads and we got shaky towards the end," Murray said, referring to games against the FCIAC's elite. "This year we wanted to come back from last year. When it was tied, we just looked at it as a new game and went for it."
The teams traded goals for most of the contest, which was tied at six at halftime. Staples used a strong transition and a variety of offensive sets to create quality opportunities.
"We talked about at halftime that the team that came out and set the momentum for the second half is going to win the game," Wreckers coach Pete Najarian said. "It was very much from our captains."
The Wreckers avenged a 15-7 loss to the Tigers a year ago, a defeat that served as motivation this time around.
"This was a very exciting game for us on a bunch of levels," Najarian said. "I'm very happy with how we played in all positions."
Staples increased the lead to 14-10, the largest lead for either team, with just over two minutes left in the game. Ridgefield got a pair of goals to cut the margin to 14-12 with 20 seconds remaining, but the Tigers didn't get another shot off and Staples claimed the win.
"We have things to work on," Staples' Jenna McNicholas said. "It's great as a starting point."
Shannon Walsh, a first team All-FCIAC selection from last year, scored five goals for the Tigers, including the goal that made it 10-10 with 11:19 remaining. First-year coach Cece Berger believed a few errors cost her team a chance at victory.
"We fought hard, and probably a bad five minutes at the wrong time," Berger said. "If you have that, any good team is going to capitalize."
The Wreckers entered the season with confidence, partly fueled by the familiarity of eight returning starters gaining valuable experience over the past several seasons.
"Our communication is a lot better," Hood said. "We're closer as a team and as a unit we work better together."