Girls volleyball preview: RHS has talent, lacks experience

As it has shown in past seasons, the Ridgefield High girls volleyball team is breathing the rarefied air of the state’s top programs. No matter how severe their graduation departures, the Tigers are able to remain a contender for conference and state titles.

Another test comes this fall.

Ridgefield lost many of its top players from last year’s 17-4 team, which fell to Greenwich in both the FCIAC semifinals and the Class LL state quarterfinals. Foremost among the now ex-Tigers is Caroline Curnal, a punishing outside hitter who earned All-FCIAC and All-State first-team honors in 2017.

“Caroline is one of those players you don’t really replace,” said Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere, whose team opened the season with a 3-0 non-conference win over Pomperaug on Friday. “Other teams were always trying to stop her but never could.”

The exits of Curnal and several other starters leaves Ridgefield with a new-look lineup this season. But Cibere isn’t as concerned about skill as she is about inexperience.

“Talent-wise we’re good,” she said. “It’s just a matter of these players getting varsity playing time and adjusting. We graduated a lot of girls who were on the court the past three or four years.”

Two of Ridgefield’s key players should be senior middle hitter Ava Fazio and senior outside hitter Mackenzie Wanicka, both of whom started last season.

“Ava is strong in the middle blocking shots,” said Cibere, “and Mackenzie is a tall, powerful hitter.”

Also back is sophomore setter Olivia Wanicka (Mackenzie’s younger sister), who received regular playing time in 2017.

“The offense is going to run through Olivia,” said Cibere. “I’m confident that she can do a good job with that.”

Ridgefield’s remaining starters will come from a group that includes senior Caroline Holloway (defensive specialist); juniors Mathilde Verbitsky (right-side hitter), Joyce Li (outside hitter/defensive specialist), Julia Kocsis (outside hitter), Lexi Held (defensive specialist), Marie Condron (defensive specialist), and Ellie Brady (defensive specialist); and sophomores Katherine Garson (middle hitter), Catherine Maguire (middle hitter), Kathleen Flynn (opposite hitter), and Norah McNeece (outside hitter).

Some of those players were varsity backups a year ago, while others were on the junior varsity squad.

“I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen at practices and in scrimmages,” said Cibere. “We are still making mistakes, but I also think we are ahead of where I thought we would be at this point.”

Notes: Mackenzie Wanicka, Fazio, and Holloway are Ridgefield’s captains.