Boys volleyball preview: Ridgefield ready to add titles

Although the seniors on this year's Ridgefield High boys volleyball team could win a fourth straight state championship this spring, there remains a hole in the résumé.

No conference title.

Ridgefield has made it to the FCIAC finals the past four seasons but failed to triumph, losing to Staples in 2013 and 2014 and Darien in 2015 and 2016. The Tigers did get revenge over Darien the past two years by beating the Blue Wave in the Class L championship match.

With most of its starters back, Ridgefield is looking to sweep both post-season titles, although Darien also returns its top players and should once again be the Tigers' toughest opponent.

"Our hitting is great across the front line, and we have the best setter in the state," said Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere. "As long as our passing is good, we are going to be hard to stop."

That setter is senior Henrik Liapunov, a four-year starter who earned All-FCIAC and All-State honors last season after leading Ridgefield in assists (901) and service points (217) and finishing second in digs (93).

Many of Liapunov's set-ups go to classmate Nick Laudati, a 6'7" opposite (or right-side) hitter who also made the All-FCIAC and All-State teams last season. Laudati ended 2016 with team-highs in kills (417) and blocks (82).

Even though Liapunov and Laudati are two of the state's best, Ridgefield has plenty of other skilled, experienced players. The group includes senior outside hitter Jack Lincoln (219 kills, 172 service points, 85 digs); junior outside hitter Christian DeVivo (119 kills, 136 service points, 75 digs); junior libero Andrew Knachel (104 digs); and senior defensive specialist Sean Keegans (58 digs).

The only concern for Cibere is replacing middle hitters Ryan Miller and Max Meyer, who combined for 268 kills and 123 blocks last year. But even there, the Tigers have options.

"We have four middles vying for the two starting spots," said Cibere. "I like our depth at that position."

Seniors Josh Verdejo (6'4") and Myles Peckham, both of whom contributed last season, will open the season as the starting middle hitters. They are backed by senior Nick van den Nieuwenhuizen and junior Henry Nelson.

Others who could contribute are senior outside hitter Braedon Gold; junior defensive specialists Eric von Recklinghausen and Will Hunter; junior outside hitter Will Coffin; sophomore defensive specialist Shane Meyer; and freshman setter Max Stafford.

"We really have talented players and depth at every position," said Cibere. "This team has the potential to be very good."

Notes: Senior Zachary James, an opposite hitter, is recovering from an off-season injury and will begin the season on the disabled list.

Ridgefield went 20-4 last year, falling to Darien, 3-1, in the FCIAC finals before beating the Blue Wave, 3-2, in the Class L state finals.

If the Tigers can win another Class L title this season they will match Staples' record of four consecutive state championships (2006-2009).