After not qualifying for the FCIAC playoffs a year ago, it could be assumed that the Staples field hockey team would be just happy with making the tournament. However with a talented group highlighted by 10 seniors, the Wreckers believe this is the year they can do serious damage and compete for a rare conference championship.

Staples took the first step towards accomplishing that, with goals by Jenna McNicholas and Jordan Ragland lifting Staples to a 2-1 win over Ridgefield in the FCIAC quarterfinals on Saturday. The Wreckers advanced to take on No. 2 Darien on Tuesday night at Brien McMahon High School.

"We're so excited," McNicholas said. "Semifinals of FCIACs isn't something Staples field hockey sees too often. That was our goal coming into the season; to make it far in FCIACs and states."

Early in the second half, McNicholas picked up the ball from outside the circle, dribbled past a defender and fired a cross ball towards Ragland, who golfed a shot into the cage. McNicholas then got on the end of an accurate long ball from Meg Fay to double the lead. The two goals came 2:08 apart and rocked Ridgefield.

"During our halftime talk we talked about who was going to step it up and score," said Staples assistant Christina Mitchell, who was filling in for head coach Ashley Del Vecchio. "All the seniors motivated each other. Jordan stepped it up and scored that first goal and it helped getting that second goal right away."

The Tigers called timeout following the second goal and responded with their best period of the game. Ridgefield controlled possession for 10 minutes and was eventually rewarded with a goal. Kathleen Gruendel scored from a sharp angle off a penalty corner with 10:21 left to give her team hope.

"I think they played great," Ridgefield coach Colleen Cannon said of her team. "I think they played with a lot of heart and a lot of fire. Staples played incredible; they had a lot of opportunities and they finished them. They took advantage of our mistakes."

But the goal seemed to wake up the Wreckers, who dominated the final stages and had multiple chances to reestablish the two-goal lead. Staples didn't allow a shot on target following Gruendel's goal.

"I think Staples stepped up and shut down a lot of what was going on," Cannon said. "A lot of our offensive players and a lot of our strengths, shutting down our middle and not getting our chances."

The semifinal appearance is the first for the Wreckers since 2011, when they stunned Darien and Wilton to win the title. That's exactly the likely path Staples will face for an encore.

"(It will take) working as hard as we can, putting it all out there," McNicholas said. "We know we can beat them. It's anyone game we just need to keep that in our heads and keep pushing.",

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