Murph's Turf: Words are source of action for RHS girls volleyball

Attached to the wall in the team room are the quotes. The ones that Ridgefield High girls volleyball head coach Lidania Cibere found either online or in print before the season began. The ones from different sources — opposing coaches, players, fans — that relayed a variation of the same theme: Ridgefield wouldn’t be as good this season.

To some extent, that thought wasn’t unwarranted. Although the Tigers reached the conference semifinals and the state finals (for the first time in program history), several top players had graduated, including All-State selections Elizabeth Middlebrook and Katie Linekin.

But believing that her team was still being erroneously, if not disrespectfully, overlooked, Cibere decided to use the pre-season comments as extra motivation for her players. Eleven matches into the regular season, the naysayers might want to sneak into the Ridgefield team room, remove their words from the wall, and then eat them.

Despite having their unbeaten start snapped with a 3-0 road loss to Greenwich last Friday, the Tigers are now 10-1 entering today's showdown at St. Joseph (13-1). The winner will take over first place in both the FCIAC East Division and the conference overall standings.

Most impressive is the manner of Ridgefield's 10 triumphs, which all have come on three-set sweeps. Write out those 3-0 scores consecutively on a whiteboard and the numerical sequence appears to be the work of a mathematician fixated on tripartites.

“Even though I knew we would be better than people were saying, I’m still surprised by how well we are playing,” said Cibere. "We are closing out the matches, even after we win the first two sets. I want us to stay hungry. Sometimes a team can get sloppy when it has a two-set lead. I don’t want us to be that team.”

A sweep on Oct. 5 over Darien — a program accustomed to post-season titles that has taken a step back the last few years — demonstrated why the Tigers are a handful. Although the Blue Wave served well, they didn’t have enough answers for Ridgefield hitters Caroline Curnal, Mackenzie Wanicka and Alicia Hill, who combined for 32 kills.

“Everyone wants to stop her,” said Cibere about Curnal, a senior whose ferocious kills look impactful enough to cause gym-floor divots. “They put two people to block Caroline and that frees up our other hitters, who are really good, too.”

In addition to its front row, Ridgefield has plusses all over the court. Senior setter Lauren Thrasher artfully moves the ball around to her hitters, and senior libero Taylor Brand tracks down digs and is fond of long serving runs. The Tigers have also received significant contributions from seniors Amanda Condron, Nicole Nielsen, Nicole Miller, and Olivia Lescinskas, juniors Ava Fazio and Jillian O’Keefe, and sophomore Julia Kocsis.

“Our depth is unreal,” said Cibere. “If someone is having an off day we can put someone else in and not worry.”

Although Ridgefield has established itself as consistently successful program under Cibere, a vacancy sign hovers over post-season championships. The Tigers have made just one FCIAC title match (losing to Darien in 2011) and played in just one state final (last year’s 3-1 setback to Stamford).

Halfway through the regular season, the current iteration looks fully capable of addressing those gaps. If so, Cibere soon will have fresher material to hang in the team room.