Although the stage might not have been as big, a statement was delivered: The Ridgefield High girls volleyball team has reloaded.
Despite graduating several starters, including All-State hitter Caroline Curnal, the Tigers sent an early season message on Tuesday night to anyone who thought they might be rebuilding this year. In a thrilling, intense match that went five games, Ridgefield defeated reigning FCIAC and Class LL state champ Greenwich, 3-2, at Ridgefield High.
The Tigers won the match by scores of 20-25, 25-21, 25-21, 14-25, and 16-14.
“We lost to Greenwich last year with our strong senior class and now we beat them without it,” said Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere, whose team fell to the Cardinals in the conference semifinals and the state quarterfinals last season. “This win validates our legitimacy and proves how these younger girls and our program as a whole deserves to be here and can compete.”
Greenwich (1-1) opened an early lead in the first game before the Tigers (2-0) used strong serving from Olivia Wanicka and two consecutive kills from Mathilde Verbitsky to tie the score at 18-18. But the Cardinals regrouped and took seven of the next nine points to win the game, 25-20.
Two impressive serving runs of six and five points, respectively, from Joyce Li helped Ridgefield prevail, 25-21, in the second game and even the match.
Miscommunication on Ridgefield’s part allowed Greenwich to score seven unanswered points and grab an early lead in game three. But the Tigers responded with stellar defense to rally for a 25-21 victory that gave them a 2-1 lead.
Greenwich stayed alive with a dominating effort in game four. Incessant serving points from freshman Adele Sotgiu and staggering kills from sophomore Lily Saleeby kept Ridgefield off balance as the Cardinals evened the match with a 25-14 triumph.
Greenwich kept rolling at the start of the fifth game, opening a 6-1 lead. But Ridgefield sophomore Nora McNeece responded with three serving aces, igniting a streak that was sustained by a block and a kill from outside hitter Julia Kocsis as the Tigers went ahead, 7-6.
Led by Saleeby, the Cardinals clawed their way back to 14-10 lead and were one point away from winning the match. But Ridgefield rallied behind Ellie Brady’s serving streak to take the next five points and go in front. A block from McNeece then completed the Tigers’ comeback and ended the match
“It was a scrappy game and we continued to come back from deficits, but we found a way to win, and that redemption after last year feels amazing,” said Ridgefield senior captain Mackenzie Wanicka. “We’re a young team, but after a win like that real success this season is very possible.”
Both of the Wanicka sisters were major contributors for the Tigers: Mackenzie finished with 11 kills, seven service points (four aces) and five digs, while Olivia had 22 assists, eight service points, and eight digs.
McNeece added six kills, eight service points and seven digs, while Verbitsky and sophomore Kate Garson each had three kills. Brady finished with 12 digs, and Li had 12 service points.