Murph's Turf: RHS fall sports Best-Of Awards
In what was arguably the finest fall season in school history, Ridgefield High teams won three conference championships and two state titles and reached three state finals before losing. All that success makes choosing The Press’s Best-Of Awards akin to buying potato chips at Costco: There are almost too many choices. But that won’t stop us, so here goes.
Play: The only goal of the FCIAC girls soccer championship game was a mix of skill, weather conditions and smarts. With Ridgefield and St. Joseph scoreless early in the second half, the Tigers were awarded a free kick nearly 40 yards away from the St. Joseph goal. Ridgefield’s free-kick specialist, senior Grace Franklin, had the wind at her back and drilled a long shot that went off the fingertips of St. Joseph keeper Veronica O’Rourke, struck the crossbar, and rebounded in front of the goal. Having read the play perfectly, Ridgefield striker Katie Jasminski was there to head the ball into the open net for the goal that gave the Tigers a 1-0 victory and a second straight conference title.
Performance: Following the diving competition, the Ridgefield High girls swim team was 60 points behind traditional power Greenwich going into the swimming portion of the FCIAC championship. But the Tigers got two first-place individual finishes from Marcie Maguire and one from Lindsey Gordon, a pair of top-three finishes from both Anna Turner and Hannah Snyder, and victories in two relays to overtake Greenwich and win the first conference title for the first time in school history.
Comeback: Beginning with its season-opening triumph over Trumbull, the Ridgefield High football team pulled off several improbable rallies this fall. The biggest came in the state playoffs. Trailing Shelton, 41-31, with under five minutes left in the Class LL semifinals, the Tigers put together a quick 70-yard drive that ended in Drew Fowler’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Shane Palmer. The defense then stopped Shelton from getting a first down, forcing a punt that gave the Tigers the ball at their own 45-yard line with 2:06 left. Ridgefield reached the Shelton 20-yard line before Fowler connected with Collin Lowe for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:14 to play. Petros Papadopoulos kicked the extra point, which ended the scoring in Ridgefield’s 44-41 victory.
Unsung effort: Flying under the radar this fall was Brad DeMassa, a senior on the Ridgefield boys cross country team. Although the Tigers were not a post-season factor as a team, DeMassa certainly was as an individual. He placed eighth overall at the conference championship, 13th in Class LL and ninth at the State Open, earning All-FCIAC and All-State honors.
Newcomer: As an eighth grader in 2015, Tess Pisanelli won the Western Connecticut Middle School girls cross country championship. As a ninth grader this fall, she was a big reason why the Ridgefield girls cross country team was Connecticut’s best. Pisanelli was one of the unbeaten Tigers’ top runners during the regular season and then helped Ridgefield sweep all three in-state championship meets. She finished eighth overall at the FCIAC championship, fifth in Class LL and 20th at the State Open, leading the Tigers at the latter two races.
Triumvirate: Opponents had little answer for the Ridgefield girls volleyball team’s trio of setter Katie Linekin and outside hitters Elizabeth Middlebrook and Caroline Curnal. An all-too-familiar and frightening sight for other teams was Linekin delivering a perfect set that either Middlebrook or Curnal hammered home for a kill. The three players were the driving forces in Ridgefield’s run to the state finals for the first time in program history.
Female athlete: For the third straight year …. Marcie Maguire. In her final high school season, Maguire continued her dominance in the pool this fall. The Ridgefield senior, who will swim at the University of Virginia, was a perfect six-for-six in post-season individual races, winning the 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke at the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open meets. She also helped the Tigers finish first in five post-season relay races. Maguire leaves RHS as the state record holder in the 100 backstroke, the Class LL record holder in the 100 backstroke and the 200 freestyle, and the FCIAC record holder in the 100 backstroke and the 200 freestyle.
Male athlete: After having his junior year end with a broken collarbone in the first game of the season, Shane Palmer went into 2016 as something of an unknown for the Ridgefield High football team. That anonymity is gone. Whether deployed as a running back or a slot receiver, Palmer was sensational for the Tigers this fall. He ran for 973 yards on 126 carries (7.7 yards per carry) and caught 49 passes for another 800 yards. Add 369 yards on kick-off returns and 114 yards on punt returns and Palmer finished the season with a whopping 2,256 all-purpose yards. He also found the end zone, scoring 23 touchdowns to tie Sam Gravitte for the program’s single-season record.
Team: The temptation here is to declare a five-way tie. The RHS girls soccer, girls cross country and girls swim teams all won conference titles; the RHS girls volleyball team made the state finals for the first time ever; and the RHS football team had a magical run to reach the Division I state finals. But only one team won multiple post-season championships. That would be the unbeaten RHS girls cross country team, which, in addition to its FCIAC victory, also finished first at the Class LL and State Open meets, firmly establishing itself as Connecticut’s best this fall.
Coach: This is another category full of deserving candidates. But while Lidania Cibere (girls volleyball), John Goetz (girls cross country), Iain Golding (girls soccer) and Jeff Bonaccorso (girls swimming) all made cases for themselves, the nod goes to veteran RHS football head coach Kevin Callahan. Returning from a one-year leave of absence, Callahan guided the Tigers to a 10-3 record and a spot in the state finals for just the third time in program history. Several of Callahan’s in-season moves — switching Shane Palmer from wide receiver to running back and moving sophomore Jackson Mitchell from wide receiver to defensive end — were Midas touches that helped the Tigers reel off seven straight wins before a 28-7 loss to unbeaten Darien in the Division I finals.