Girls soccer preview: Backline a boost for RHS

Over the past two seasons, the Ridgefield High girls soccer team put together the two best back-to-back seasons in program history. The Tigers had a combined 38-6-3 record, won two conference titles, and reached two Class LL state championship games before losing to unbeaten Glastonbury teams.

But with graduation striking at a Category 5 level, Ridgefield will need big contributions from a bunch of new starters in order to scale similar heights this fall.

“We lost some very good players,” said second-year head coach Iain Golding, who guided the Tigers to a 21-3-0 record and a second consecutive Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship in 2016. “We will likely fly under the radar this season, but I think we are capable of giving everyone a good game. There is still a lot of talent on the team.”

One strength for Ridgefield is its backline: Three of four starters return, including senior captain Kathryn Barlow, a three-year mainstay at fullback. Also returning are senior fullback Anna Landler and junior central defender Claire Middlebrook.

“Having three of four players back on the defense is a nice advantage,” said Golding, who does need to find a replacement for sweeper Molly Nethercott (now playing at Syracuse). “That’s the least headache. It’s great to have that experience in front of our goal, especially with so many new starters in other areas of the field.”

With the graduations of strikers Katie Jasminski, Alexandra Damron and Natalie Brassinga and midfielders Grace Franklin and Alyssa Bonanno, Ridgefield loses five players who accounted for 53 goals and 46 assists last season. Jasminski (21 goals, 15 assists) and Damron (13 goals, 13 assists) were the team’s leading scorers in 2016.

Among the leading candidates to take over on the forward line and in midfield are junior Mackenzie Robson, sophomores Caitlin Slaminko and Megan Klosowski, seniors Emma Jacobson and Erika Linke, and junior Grace Girvalo — all of whom played on varsity last season.

“Obviously, we are going to need people to come in and score some goals for us,” said Golding. “If we can find a few players who can finish it will make a big difference because we should be able to shut down teams with our defense.”

The graduation departures of starter Julia Middlebrook and back-up Julia Gerber mean the Tigers will have a new goalie for the first time since 2012. Middlebrook was arguably the FCIAC’s top keeper last fall, allowing just 11 goals (.830 save percentage) in 23 games.

Taking over in goal will be either junior Lauren Castle, the JV keeper last fall, or freshman Kelly Chittenden. “They are both competing for the job,” said Golding. “We’ll have to see if one of them emerges as the starter.”

Notes: Also expected to contribute this season are senior forward Scarlett Ball, senior defender Kate Vanni, junior defender/midfielder Amelia Hynes, junior forward Carrina Dabroi, and sophomore midfielder Emma Langis.

Golding said that several freshmen could also break into the varsity lineup this season.

In addition to Nethercott, Jasminski (Chicago), Bonanno (Hamilton), Franklin (Colby), and Damron (Johns Hopkins) are also playing college soccer this fall.

Nethercott, Jasminski and Bonanno made the All-FCIAC first team last season. Damron, Franklin and Julia Middlebrook were named to the All-FCIAC second team. Jasminski and Bonanno were chosen to the Connecticut Girls Soccer Coaches Association Class LL All-State team.