The Press’s Best-Of List for the recently concluded high school winter sports season.
Performance: Thomas Guillaume, McCall Keller, Will Bordash and Graeme Hewett combined to win the 4×800-meter relay at the State Open boys indoor track meet. But it was their second-place finish at the more competitive New England regionals that was even more impressive. The four Ridgefield runners combined for a time of 7:57.79, which was nearly a 12-second drop from their first-place time at the State Open. It also set a new indoor school record and helped the four Tigers earn All-New England honors.
Comeback: The Ridgefield High boys basketball team found itself down by two points going into the final quarter of a regular-season game Feb. 7 against visiting Brien McMahon. Although Ridgefield rallied for a 76-71 victory — one of several comeback triumphs for the Tigers this season — the method was unusual. With McMahon content to foul, Ridgefield scored all 19 of its fourth-quarter points on free throws. Leading the foul-line charge was Kurt Steidl, who went 12-of-14 from the line in the final eight minutes.
Newcomer: Standing 6’2”, freshman Rebecca Lawrence was not only the tallest player on the RHS girls basketball team but also one of its key contributors. Lawrence contributed on offense but made more of an impression on defense by grabbing rebounds and blocking or altering shots. Those skills were on display in Ridgefield’s season-ending loss to Fairfield Ludlowe in the Class LL state tournament as Lawrence had 13 rebounds and 11 blocks for a defensive-minded double-double.
Game: The third time was more revenge than charm for the Ridgefield High girls hockey team against Darien this winter. During the regular season, Darien scored a goal with 26 seconds left to earn a 2-2 tie. Even more painful, the Blue Wave got the tying goal with 16.5 seconds to play and then went on to beat Ridgefield, 2-1, in the conference semifinals. But the Tigers avoided further heartbreak when they defeated Darien, 4-1, in the state semifinals. “I felt a lot more secure when we had more than a one-goal lead in the final minute,” said Ridgefield head coach Lauren Lubrano Gibbs.
Coach: Observers figured the reigning FCIAC-champion Ridgefield High boys hockey team was destined not to repeat after losing numerous marquee players. RHS head coach Shaun Gallagher didn’t believe the naysayers and instead guided the Tigers to a second straight conference title and a 20-win season, which ended in the state semifinals. Gallagher’s best strategical move may have been placing senior forwards Vin Rella and Chris Morrow, the team’s captains, on different lines, thereby spreading out their contagious intensity.
Female athlete: From an individual standpoint, senior Sarah Guillaume had a standout season for the RHS girls indoor track team. She finished second in the 3,200-meter race at the Class LL meet and third in the event at the State Open, qualifying for regionals. Guillaume, however, added to her accomplishments by running on Ridgefield’s 4×800-meter relay team, which finished first at the Class LL and State Open meets and fifth at regionals, earning All-New England honors.
Male athlete: When Kurt Steidl played his last game for the RHS boys basketball team in a state quarterfinal loss to Fairfield Prep, it signaled the end of arguably the greatest career in program history. Steidl, who broke the 1,000-point mark this season, averaged 25 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game for the Tigers, who went 18-6. He had 13 double-doubles and shot 55% from the field and 82% from the line. Steidl, who will play Division I college basketball at Vermont, was also chosen to the All-FCIAC and All-State teams for the second consecutive season.
Team: Despite a demanding regular-season schedule that included 11 games against opponents ranked in the state’s top 10 at some point, the RHS boys hockey team put together a 10-game winning streak on the way to a 15-5 record. The Tigers avenged one of those losses (to Darien) in the FCIAC semifinals and then won their second straight conference championship with a 5-4 victory over St. Joseph. In the Division I state quarterfinals, Ridgefield then beat another team (Xavier) it had lost to in the regular season before falling to top-seed Fairfield Prep, 4-1, in the state semifinals. Still, it was just the second time a Ridgefield team reached the state semis, and the first time an RHS team won two FCIAC titles in a row.