Field hockey preview: Pieterse a plus for RHS

After losing six of its first eight games last fall, the Ridgefield High field hockey team did a midseason 180°. The Tigers won six of their next eight games to get back to .500 before falling in the opening round of the state tournament.

Now in her second year as head coach, Madelaine Hutchings believes the turnaround can continue in 2017.

“I think we’ll be stronger,” said Hutchings, who became Ridgefield’s head coach shortly before the start of last season. “I feel so much more comfortable in my role, and the players don’t have to learn a new system.”

In senior Katie Pieterse, the Tigers have one of the league’s most talented players. Pieterse had eight goals and nine assists last year and earned All-FCIAC first-team honors.

“She definitely causes trouble for the other team,” said Hutchings about Pieterse, who will be deployed as a forward and midfielder. “We’re hoping to play her more as a forward so she can put pressure on the opposing defense.”

Ridgefield’s other top returnees include senior Natalie Silver, an All-FCIAC West choice last year who has moved to midfield after playing primarily on defense in 2016. “Natalie’s a strong passer who can help move the ball,” said Hutchings. “Having her in midfield should help us transition quicker to offense.”

Also back are senior defender Julia McSpedon — “she’s very mobile and a strong communicator,” said Hutchings — senior defender Lexi Pass (moving from midfield) and senior goalie Ellie Kaiser. “Having Ellie back there lets us breathe a little easier,” said Hutchings.

Other key players for Ridgefield are senior forwards Samantha Petruzzelli, Julia Wilson and Caroline Bunt; senior defenders Kate Lang, Delia McInerney and Maeve Colarusso; junior midfielder Ellie O’Connor; sophomore forward Catherine Irving; and sophomore midfielder Bella Carrozza.

Several varsity newcomers — including juniors Lily Carnicelli, Sophia Carnicelli and Maddie Peters and sophomore Maddie McGrath — could also make contributions.

“We have a strong JV with 24 players,” said Hutchings. “That will provide for some mobility in case we need it.”

Notes: Junior Rosemary O’Keefe is the backup goalie to Kaiser.

Ridgefield won its final four regular-season games last fall.

The Tigers graduated just six players (Kelley Phippen, Hailey Guerra, Maggie Scott, Anna Kesten, Aneeka Britto, Nola Barricelli) from last year’s state tournament roster.

Ridgefield lost to New Milford, 3-0, in a Class L state tournament qualifying-round game to end last season with an 8-9 record.