Ridgefield tops Cadets, 2-0, in battle of unbeatens

Coming into the season, question marks loomed regarding the caliber of the Ridgefield High girls soccer team. Despite back-to-back conference titles and state runner-up finishes, the Tigers were something of an unknown quantity due to widespread graduation losses.

After going unbeaten through its first 10 games, Ridgefield silenced many skeptics. Yet there were still a few who wanted to see how the Tigers would fare in their biggest test so far: Monday night's showdown with fellow unbeaten St. Joseph, the FCIAC preseason favorite.

Doubters now have no reason to doubt.

Dominating the game for a full 80 minutes, Ridgefield got two second-half goals in under three minutes and blanked St. Joseph, 2-0, at Tiger Hollow. Sophomore midfielder Emma Langis and junior central defender Claire Middlebrook had the goals for Ridgefield, which improved to 9-0-2.

Monday's contest was a meeting between the two programs that have established themselves as the FCIAC's best. The teams have played in the past two conference title games, with Ridgefield winning both times.

Beyond that, many of the players compete against one another on their club teams. That familiarity made the Ridgefield strategy abundantly clear: contain St. Joseph centerback Tory Bike and striker Jessica Mazo.

Ridgefield senior midfielder Emma Jacobson marked Mazo and nullified any significant threat from the UConn commit, limiting Mazo's possessions and her impact on St. Joseph’s offense.

“Obviously, Jessica is a really great player and it was my responsibility to do all I could to prevent her from turning and making plays,” said Jacobson. “I feel that I did a pretty good job at doing that because their team had very few chances on our side of the field, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support from the rest of the defense and the rest of the team.”

St. Joseph struggled to find any attacking rhythm against Ridgefield's stifling backline, anchored by Middlebrook and senior captain Kathryn Barlow. The Cadets, who had outscored their previous opponents by a 47-6 margin, failed to find the back of the net for the first time this season. In 11 games, Ridgefield has now allowed a meager four goals.

Following a scoreless 40 minutes, Ridgefield capitalized on a pair of set pieces early in the second half. The first goal came in the 51st minute on a brilliant 35-yard free kick by Middlebrook that found Langis for a deflection to open the scoring.

“Claire’s services are always on target and I just focused on getting across the box to put it in the goal,” said Langis. “We had several opportunities to score throughout the game and we all fought hard for the win.”

Slightly more than two minutes later, Ridgefield struck again. From the far right side (close to the corner flag), freshman Faith Arnold provided the service on a free kick to Middlebrook, who volleyed the ball past the reach of St. Joseph keeper Veronica O'Rourke and into the back of the net, putting the Tigers ahead, 2-0.

Ridgefield continued to shut down the Cadets the rest of the way, getting the type of signature win that turns questioners into believers.