Girls hockey preview: RHS may surprise

Perhaps it is fitting that Lauren Lubrano Gibbs takes over the Ridgefield High girls hockey team this winter.

Lubrano Gibbs, a Ridgefielder who played at the Berkshire School and Clarkson University, is the Tigers’ new head coach, replacing Paul Fabbri, the only bench boss in team history. But she is far from the only addition: Many of Ridgefield’s players are also debutantes, including five freshmen.

Ridgefield went 15-7-1 last winter, losing to Greenwich in the FCIAC semifinals and New Canaan in the state semifinals. Gone from that team are 11 players — seven seniors and four others who did not return, including three who left for prep school.

Among the graduation losses was winger Cara Lockwood, an All-FCIAC first-team selection who led Ridgefield in scoring with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists). Center Allie Schiffer (12 points) and defenseman Missy Hutchings also graduated, while forwards Dana Cerone (25 points in 14 games) and Kerry Sheehan-Delany (19 points as a freshman) and forward/defenseman Erica Guider headed to prep school.

The exodus was severe enough for many observers to predict a down season for a perennially powerful program. That analysis may have been altered last weekend, though, as the Tigers went 2-1 in a pre-season jamboree event, beating New Canaan and Greenwich and losing to Darien.

“I think many people figured we would not be as strong as usual,” said Lubrano Gibbs, whose team opens the season Saturday night at home against East Catholic. “But after our performance at the jamboree their outlook might be different. We are probably not going to enter the season as a sleeper team.”

Despite the widespread departures, Ridgefield does return several proven players. Leading the group are defensemen Anna Marcus, the team’s only senior, and Meghan Galloway, a junior who was named to the All-FCIAC second team last year. Galloway was third on the team in scoring with 21 points and Marcus fifth with 17.

“Both Anna and Meghan are good defensively and can contribute offensively,” said Lubrano Gibbs. “They are very good skaters.”

Also back are junior forwards Katie Curnan (eight points) and Vindyha Rao (seven points), junior forward Erica Ely, sophomore forwards Lucy Wemyss (eight points) and Mariana O’Brien, and sophomore defensemen Isabelle Stafford and Olivia Miloro.

The Tigers also return junior goalie Heather Ogden, who started the bulk of games last season and had a 2.87 goals against average.

“Heather is going to be huge for us,” said Lubrano Gibbs. “She can keep a team in a game by herself.”

A big plus will be the additions of junior center Meredith Keenan and sophomore winger Maeve Reilly, students at Immaculate High School in Danbury who are playing for the Tigers as part of a new co-op program between the schools.

“Getting those two is a major boost,” said Lubrano Gibbs about Keenan and Reilly, who are slated to play on the top line along with Curnan. “They are both very good.”

Several members of Ridgefield’s five-player freshman class could also provide immediate dividends. The group consists of forwards Elizabeth Garlick, Meghan Hyatt, Meaghan McGowan and Kira Rosencrans and defenseman Kate Lombardozzi.

“It’s a nice class,” said Lubrano Gibbs. “They should all help, either this year or in the future.”

With Marcus and Galloway on defense and Ogden in goal, the Tigers could be tough to score against. The key will be how well Ridgefield replaces the lost production on offense.

“I’m not that worried,” said Lubrano Gibbs. “Between the players we have back and some of the newcomers, I think we can put the puck in the net.”

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