Girls hoop preview: Tigers need talent to overtake inexperience

As the 2017-18 approaches, Tom DiMarzo uses an artistic metaphor to describe his squad.

“We’re like a big mound of clay right now,” said DiMarzo, the head coach of the Ridgefield High girls basketball team. “We need to be molded into shape.”

Sculpting is required because the Tigers, although talented, are extremely young. The roster includes just one upperclassmen, senior forward Caroline Curnal, who will be flanked by a corps of skilled sophomores — with some promising freshmen also expected to contribute.

“I’m positive and the players are positive, but it’s going to be a process,” said DiMarzo, whose team opens the season tomorrow (Dec. 15) in Stamford against Westhill. “A lot of it is going to be how we handle our lack of varsity experience against the better teams. But I still think we can be competitive with anyone we play.”

DiMarzo got an early glimpse of Ridgefield’s mix of skill and inexperience during a recent scrimmage with Mercy, one of the state’s top programs.

“For three quarters we were right with them, and they have a bunch of seniors,” said DiMarzo. “But then we had one quarter where we lost focus and made some silly mistakes.”

Ridgefield went 17-5 last season, losing to Stamford in the conference quarterfinals and then getting upset by Southington in the first round of the Class LL state tournament. But starters Julia Middlebrook, Elizabeth Middlebrook, Meaghan O’Hara and Grace Goodwin all graduated, as did key reserve Caeleigh Tannian. Another top reserve, junior Claire Middlebrook, is focusing on soccer and not playing this winter.

In Curnal, though, the Tigers have a legit building block. The 5’10” forward averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds and four steals per game as a junior last season, earning spots on the All-FCIAC and All-State first teams.

“She’s tenacious under the boards,” said DiMarzo about Curnal, a three-sport star who has also made All-FCIAC and All-State teams in volleyball and lacrosse. ‘And she also has the kind of positive confidence that you want in a player. She can not pick up a basketball for months, but when she does she expects to be the best player on the court.”

“I want to lead by example and set a good foundation for these younger girls coming into the program this year,” said Curnal. “I’m the only senior and captain … it’s going to be tough, but these girls are excited to get to work.”

Ridgefield’s other starters will likely come from a strong sophomore class that includes guards Kate Wagner and Megan Klosowski and forwards Isabella Giordano, Cameron McClellan, and Claire Tannian. Another sophomore who would have contributed, guard Emma Klotz, suffered a knee injury during one of the team’s first practices and is out for the season.

“A few of the sophomores got some varsity playing time last year,” said DiMarzo. “They have the talent, but they just need to get more experience at that level. We also have a little size in the freshmen class, and a few of those players might get some varsity time.”

With a younger team, DiMarzo said the Tigers may alter their defensive playing style this winter.

“We will still press a bit, but I expect us to play a little more zone than we have in previous years,” he said. “The zone is easier for younger players to know their roles.

“The goals are still the same, to compete against everyone we play and make the FCIAC and state tournaments,” said DiMarzo. “I think we have enough talent to do that. I expect us to get a lot better as the season goes on.”

“We are going to be a little under the radar this year, but we’ve been working impressively hard in the offseason,” said Curnal. “I think we’re all pretty excited to shock people this year with what we are capable of doing.”

Notes: The Tigers play their first five games on the road before having their home opener on Jan. 3 against conference favorite Stamford.

Press Sports Correspondent Claire Filaski contributed to this story.