With nine starters returning from a team that made an unexpected run to the state quarterfinals, it might seem difficult for players to break into the first 11 for the Ridgefield High girls soccer team.
Not so, says head coach Robb Banyai.
“We have 24 kids who can all play,” said Banyai. “This is probably the deepest team I’ve ever had here.”
After getting ravaged by graduation losses, the Tigers struggled through an uncharacteristic 5-6-5 regular season. But Ridgefield did go 3-1-2 in its final six contests, and that strong play carried over into the Class LL tournament as wins over eighth-seed West Haven and ninth-seed Greenwich lifted the 25th-seeded Tigers into the quarterfinals. A 3-1 loss to top-seed and eventual state champ Glastonbury ended Ridgefield’s 7-7-5 season but also served notice of a young team’s marked improvement.
Banyai is hopeful that the Tigers can pick up where they left off.
“We have good players all over the field,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”
Ridgefield’s biggest strength could be in midfield. Junior Keely Lockwood, an All-FCIAC first team choice last season, should be one of the conference’s premier playmaking midfielders. Classmate Carly Cugine, who was impressive in 2011, partners with Lockwood in central midfield.
Also expected to contribute in central midfield are sophomores Jenna Denis and Abby von Recklinghausen.
Senior Jenny Kreps is back at one outside midfield spot, with classmate Eliza Paltauf the front-runner on the other flank. Seniors Nicole Trevisani and Kelsey Hauser and juniors Nicole Syrotiak and Liz Trillo also in the mix.
Anchoring the backline is senior central defender Anna Zukowski, an All-FCIAC honorable mention choice, along with Cugine, last year. “She won’t come off the field for too long,” said Banyai about Zukowski.
Senior Amy Reunert and junior Aimee Manderlink look to be the starting outside backs, with senior Amanda Tagliaferri and junior Megan Johnson the top choices at the other central defender spot.
Juniors Maggie Brassinga and Caroline Turner could also see time on defense, as might Trevisani and Trillo.
At forward, the Tigers return senior Ellie Gravitte and junior Sandy Carpenter. Seniors Amanda Berta and Ally Brassinga and freshman Sarah Battipaglia are also in the running for playing time.
That group could be vital to Ridgefield’s success.
“We have to put the ball in the goal on a consistent basis,” said Banyai. “That is something we didn’t do last year.”
Senior Kathryn Eckhoff replaces All-FCIAC second team selection Nicole Rioseco in goal. Sophomore Andrea Bedard has also looked good during practice, according to Banyai.
A major strength for the Tigers figures to be ball control.
“We are very good at holding onto the ball,” said Banyai. “We are focused on keeping possession and switching fields. We should be able to do that better than most teams.”
Ridgefield’s combination of skill and experience should safeguard against another slow start. And if the Tigers can finish, they might be in for a big year.
“I know we can possess the ball and play defense,” said Banyai. “If we can score goals this could be a very good team.”