Ridgefield beats New Canaan in Class LL second round

For a moment, it looked as though a winner-take-all fifth set might be required.

Down two games to one, the New Canaan girls volleyball team opened an early 7-3 lead over Ridgefield in the fourth set of Thursday's Class LL state tournament second-round match at Ridgefield High School.

But with standout senior hitter Caroline Curnal blasting four kills, third-seed Ridgefield won 13 of the next 16 points to go ahead, 16-10. Although 19th-seed New Canaan did get within 21-19, the Tigers were able to halt the comeback attempt and close out the set, the match, and the Rams' season.

With its 3-1 victory — by scores of 25-15, 21-25, 25-13, and 25-20 — Ridgefield advanced to the Class LL quarterfinals. The Tigers (17-3), who received a first-round bye, will meet another conference rival, sixth-seed Greenwich, on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Ridgefield High. Greenwich has beaten the Tigers twice this season, most recently in the FCIAC semifinals.

"I'm just glad to win this one and get another shot at Greenwich," said Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere. "New Canaan has a good team and a great player in Carson Allsteadt, so we knew it wasn't going to be easy."

"Ridgefield's very good; they run a very quick offense," said New Canaan head coach Kevin Marino, whose team finished the season with a 13-10 record. "We tried to stick to a game plan, and once we saw we could do that and play with them we started playing a little better. My kids fought to the end, so that's all I could ask of them."

In the opening set Thursday, Ridgefield raced to a 14-5 lead behind commanding net play from Curnal and Mackenzie Wanicka. From there, Ava Fazio's tip, Lauren Thrasher's redirection, and three Curnal kills helped keep the Tigers comfortably ahead en route to the 25-15 victory.

Any thoughts of an easy Ridgefield sweep were put to rest at the start of the second set. Getting kills from Allsteadt, Jessica Parrino and Caroline Eno, and several textbook serves from Emma Wheeler, the Rams opened an 8-4 lead. After the Tigers tied the score at 12-12, kills by Allsteadt and Catherine Koennecke and a nice block by VeNae Rosdahl put New Canaan in front, 19-13. The Rams went on to win the set, 25-21, and even the match.

Then it was Ridgefield's turn to dominate. The hosts got an early kill from Alicia Hill and serving runs from Nicole Nielsen and Joyce Li to open an 8-2 lead. New Canaan couldn't recover, taking a timeout after Olivia Lescinskas's kill extended Ridgefield's lead to 13-4.

The break didn't interrupt the Tigers. A great dink by Fazio and a kill by Amanda Condron helped Ridgefield roll to a 25-13 victory and a 2-1 lead.

Two kills by Allsteadt and a service ace by Parrino powered New Canaan to its 7-3 lead at the start of the fourth set. But Ridgefield recovered, going ahead 17-11 on Wanicka's kill. The Rams were able to close within 21-19 before Curnal's kill sparked a 4-1 run that secured Ridgefield's four-set triumph.

"I thought we played great in the first and third sets," said Cibere. "We didn't play so well in the second set and the beginning of the fourth set, but at least we were able to hang in there and rally to win the fourth set. You want to avoid a fifth set, because anything can happen."

Notes: Curnal finished with 17 kills for Ridgefield. Hill added seven kills and Wanicka had six kills. Setter Lauren Thrasher contributed 34 assists and three blocks.

For New Canaan, Allsteadt led the way with 18 kills, six digs and two blocks. Wheeler had 28 assists, while Koennecke added four kills and Carey Callahan had 13 digs.