Girls lax preview: Ridgefield aims to stay among elite

After several years of progression that included wins over previously untouchable programs, the Ridgefield High girls lacrosse team made its biggest leap last season.

With a 14-11 victory over blue-chip New Canaan in the FCIAC semifinals, Ridgefield advanced to the championship game of the state's toughest conference for the first time ever. Although the Tigers lost to Darien in the finals — and then fell to Staples in the opening round of the state tournament — the breakthrough was significant.

Although many key players have graduated, Ridgefield will look to remain among the top teams in the FCIAC and state this spring.

"I think we could be better, even though we did lose a lot," said head coach Cece Berger. "Some of the younger players have really improved, and we have some very strong players returning."

One of those returnees is senior midfielder/attackman Caroline Curnal, an All-FCIAC and All-State selection last season who will play college lacrosse at Lafayette.

"Caroline is a force," said Berger. "She is strong and fast and focused, and she is also a role model for the other players."

When preparing for the Tigers, opposing teams will likely aim to contain Curnal.

"I hope that's what happens," said Berger. "We have several other players who can score, so that would give them more freedom if teams try to shut down Caroline."

Senior Katie Hoban, junior Maeve Tobin, and sophomore Abby Winkler lead the attack, with sophomores Caitlin Slaminko and Aly Gagnon joining Curnal in midfield. Slaminko was a major contributor for the Tigers as a freshman last season.

The defense features senior Erika Linke and Lexi Pass, juniors Karley Smith and Sammy Lehaney, and sophomore Bella Carozza.

Ridgefield also returns sophomore goalie Lexi Held, who was a revelation in her first year as a starter.

"She's small physically but she has incredible reflexes and takes every shot seriously, even in practice," said Berger about Held. "She also reads the game really well, and that helps her to always be in good position for shots."

Another plus for the Tigers is the return of senior midfielder Mae Briody, who played as a freshman before attending Sacred Heart the last two years. "It's nice to have her back," said Berger. "Mae can definitely help us."

Also expected to contribute are senior Lauren Whalen (attack), juniors Grace Egan (attack) and Ellie O'Connor (defense), and sophomore Hannah Boylan (midfield).

"We have a lot of players who could get on the field," said Berger. "Our depth is really strong this season."

Notes: Ridgefield opened the season with an 11-3 win over St. Joseph on Saturday morning.

In addition to Curnal, Tobin (Temple), Lehaney (Bucknell), Briody (Tufts), and Egan (Albright) have made college commitments.

The Tigers finished with a 14-6 overall record last season.

Among the biggest graduation losses were Lucie Picard, Kaitlyn McMullan, Alyssa Bonanno (Hamilton), Annie Hage (Lafayette), Julia Realander (Babson), and Fair Smith (Hobart & William Smith). Picard made the All-FCIAC first team, while McMullan, Hage, and Smith were named to the All-FCIAC second team. Picard and Hage joined Curnal on the Class L All-State first team.