Ridgefield, Staples each hoping to make history of their own in title game
WESTPORT — For the first time in almost 30 years, a pair of FCIAC teams will battle for the elite crown that is the top division girls soccer championship.
And someone is going to snap a long title drought in the process.
No. 4 Staples and No. 7 Ridgefield will meet at 1 p.m. in West Haven for the Class LL title. The Wreckers are seeking their first state championship since 1989; the Tigers are after their first state title period.
A win would likely put the Tigers in the dynasty conversation. Ridgefield has posted a 53-9-6 record the last three seasons, won two FCIAC championships and reached three straight Class LL finals. Trumbull from 2006-08 is the last FCIAC team to achieve the latter feat.
“For us to be back in the final after graduating seven or eight starters, we’re very happy with that,” Tigers coach Iain Golding said after the semifinals. “It’s a credit to how hard the girls have worked.”
The Tigers hope the third time’s the charm against Staples this season. The Wreckers claimed a 2-0 win in the regular season and a 1-0 win in the FCIAC semifinals. But Wreckers coach Barry Beattie knows beating the same team three times in a season is a difficult task.
CLASS LL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
No. 4 Staples (15-3-1) vs. No. 7 Ridgefield (14-2-3)
When/Where: Saturday at West Haven High School, 1 p.m.
2017 meetings: Staples 2-0 Oct 12, Staples 1-0 Nov. 1 (FCIAC semifinals)
Key players, Staples: Sally McGee (defense), Reese Sutter, Autumn Smith (midfielders)
Key players, Ridgefield: Claire Middlebrook (defense), Faith Arnold, Caitlin Slaminko (forwards)
What to watch for: Both teams have posted excellent defensive records, but are not shy of getting forward. In fact, both teams are more inclined to take chances moving up the field knowing they each have a rock-solid backline to prevent counter attacks. Preventing set pieces will likely go a long way in determining the winner.
No penalty shootouts Saturday: The possibility of co-champions is strong in this one; both teams are evenly matched. Three of the last four years have included at least one co-champion in girls soccer.
“Ridgefield are good,” Beattie said. “Both were very tough games; it’s not easy to continuously beat the same team when they’re a top team. They know what they’re going to be up against and so do we.”
A blend of youth and experience has brought both teams to the final. Seniors dominate both defenses as Sally McGee and Anne Amacker of Staples have both been four-year varsity standouts. Junior Claire Middlebrook and senior Kathryn Barlow have controlled the middle; Ridgefield has yielded just nine goals in 21 games this season.
It’s a different story in the midfield, which is clearly Staples’ strength. Freshman Autumn Smith and sophomore Reese Sutter were two of five Wreckers named first-team All-FCIAC. Both are Division I prospects who draw praise from opposing coaches.
“It’s exciting to see and exciting for the league to be able to produce such a good one from this area,” Beattie said of Smith. “She’s just so composed; she plays like an 18-year-old and she’s just turned 14.”
Up front, Ashley Wright leads a front line that also includes basketball standout Arianna Gerig, who has bolstered the attack with 10 goals this season.
An influx of young talent has lifted the Tigers, too. Sophomore Caitlin Slaminko and freshman Faith Arnold supplied the offense this term.
The Wreckers haven’t had to travel very far so far in states. After winning their first two matches at home, Staples made the long, arduous journey to Ludlowe to fend off the Blue Wave. All three opponents — Ludlowe, Trumbull and Darien — are conference rivals. The Wreckers avenged regular-season defeats to the Eagles and Blue Wave.
“I think if you asked every FCIAC coach they’d say they wouldn’t want to play an FCIAC team,” Beattie said. “I think it’s nice to play who’s different; for us we’ve had a great run.”
Ridgefield encountered nonconference foes Southington and Enfield in the first two rounds before knocking off three-time defending champion Glastonbury in the semifinals.
Margins are always thin this time of the season, as evidenced by both teams’ runs to the final. Neither team won a game by more than one goal, and both had to survive the lottery of a penalty shootout — Staples in the quarterfinals against Trumbull and Ridgefield in the semis against Glastonbury — to advance.
“It would be everything we’ve tried to work for,” Beattie said of a possible win Saturday. “The first year here as freshmen they won the FCIAC title; for them to walk away with a state championship would be full circle.”