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Girls lacrosse preview: Ralph looks for progress despite losses

Michelle Ralph’s plan has been to make progress every season, inching the Ridgefield High girls lacrosse program ever closer to perennial conference and state heavyweights Darien, Wilton and New Canaan.

On paper, that forward momentum might seem likely to stall this season. But based on what Ralph has seen on the practice field so far, maybe not.

“We lost a lot of good players from last season, but we are not really feeling the hurt,” said Ralph, Ridgefield’s head coach. “I’m feeling good about this season. I think we can keep improving.”

The Tigers went 12-7 in 2012, reaching the FCIAC and Class L state quarterfinals. Many of the top players have graduated, however, including leading scorer Caroline Ogden, Taylor Fischer and Melissa Galione, who combined for 116 goals last spring.

Also gone are goalie Maggie Philbin and defenders Missy Hutchings and Morgan Hyland.

“No doubt we got hit hard by graduation,” said Ralph. “The good news is that we have a strong senior class returning.”

Even with the loss of firepower, Ridgefield should be able to generate offense this season. Senior Liana Mathias (44 goals) was second to Ogden in goal scoring last year and will team with classmates Shauna Norris (34 goals) and Carolyn Murray (12) to give the Tigers a formidable scoring unit. Senior Brooke Barrow (seven goals) and juniors Maddie Caviola and Shannon Walsh are the leading reserves.

“Liana and Shauna are both proven goal scorers, and Carolyn and Brooke have also shown they can score,” said Ralph. “I think we will be OK in terms of goals.”

Seniors Anna Marcus and Eliza Marcus (15 goals each in 2012) and Stephanie Kisciras are back in midfield, with classmate Maggie Scalzo and juniors Maddie Wiley, Sandy Carpenter, Alexis Masciotti, Maggie McSpedon, and Elise Quartuccio also looking to contribute. Wiley is the only junior with varsity experience.

Heading the defense are seniors Casey Briody and Hannah Dighton. Juniors Erica Ely, Samantha Shiller and Abby Side are also vying for playing time. “Casey and Hannah are excellent defenders,” said Ralph. “They also give us good leadership back there.”

With Philbin graduated, the Tigers will have a new starter in goal this year. Junior Erin Norrison and freshman Maddie Burns are contending for the starting spot.

“They have both looked good in the pre-season,” said Ralph. “Erin is a little older, but Maddie shows a lot of promise.”

Although the regular season doesn’t start until next Wednesday (against Westhill), one challenge has already presented itself for Ridgefield: A tougher schedule.

“We’ve added Darien and New Canaan,” said Ralph. “That makes for a much harder schedule than we had last year.”

But the more rigorous schedule is another sign of Ralph’s ambition for her team.

“We want to play the best opponents,” she said. “That is a way for us to get better ourselves.”

Notes: Ridgefield lost to Greenwich in the FCIAC quarterfinals and Cheshire in the Class L quarterfinals last season.

The Tigers will play 11 of their 16 games at home this spring. Including the opener against Westhill, Ridgefield’s first seven games are at Tiger Hollow. The Tigers then hit the road for four straight before returning home for four contests.

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