A 20-3 overall record, a first-ever conference championship, a runner-up finish in the Class L state tournament … put those accomplishments together and they added up to the best season in program history for the Ridgefield High boys volleyball team last spring.
The only drawback? Last year’s team featured nine seniors, including All-FCIAC and All-State players Ian Word and Chris Bruno. Word led the Tigers in kills (192), while Bruno was tops in assists (611) and service points (179).
“We are going to look different out there,” said Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere, whose team opens the season Friday at Masuk-Monroe. “Many of those seniors last year had been on the team since they were sophomores. They knew each other and had great chemistry.”
Given the departures, it might seem logical to predict a descent from 2012′s lofty heights; Cibere, however, isn’t on board with that sentiment.
“We have players who have been waiting their turns and are now ready to show what they can do,” she said. “The goal for us will be building the teamwork necessary for passing and defense. If we can do that I think we can contend again for championships.”
One of those players ready for the spotlight is senior setter Paul Cooke, who spent last season as Bruno’s understudy.
“Paul is a talented player in his own right,” said Cibere. “He’s ready to step up and run the offense.”
Classmate Jon Hicks is back as an outside hitter, with fellow senior Tyler Chittenden on the other side.
“Jon is a good athlete, and Tyler has really improved,” said Cibere. “We’re looking for him to provide a lot of our offense.”
Griffin Jones, a 6’4” junior, is back at middle hitter after starting at that position last season. He will team with fellow 6’4″ junior David Linder to give the Tigers a potentially dominating duo inside.
“The middle should be a strength for us,” said Cibere. “Griffin is a great athlete, and David is another one of those younger players who has gotten better.”
Ridgefield’s other returning starter is skilled sophomore Karl Liapunov, who returns at libero after an impressive freshman season.
“Karl really knows the game,” said Cibere. “He is very advanced for a sophomore.”
Also expected to fill key roles are senior outside hitter Will Marshall, a co-captain along with Hicks, and sophomore right-side player Mark Ligouri.
The reserves include seniors Griffin Carroll, Adam Huet and TJ Ranney, and juniors Adam Findlay, Chris McLean, Pat Weston.
“We have a deep bench,” said Cibere. “Some of those guys could contribute.”
One plus for Ridgefield is that the FCIAC’s other heavyweights, Staples and Darien, also suffered significant graduation losses.
“All of us lost really good players,” said Cibere. “The difference is going to be which team develops good chemistry with its new starters.”
Cibere believes the Tigers can be that team.
“I’ve seen how hard the players have worked in the off-season,” said Cibere. “My aim is always to reload rather than rebuild, and I think we can do that this season.”