Ridgefield volleyball overcomes New Canaan, 3-1

Over the past few seasons, the Ridgefield Tigers, a perennial volleyball power, likely could’ve breathed a little easier when they took on the New Canaan Rams.

In the rough-and-tumble FCIAC, however, the times have changed.

The Rams, who have clinched their first state playoff bid since 2014 and are in the hunt for an FCIAC berth, stood tall against the Tigers, but Ridgefield eventually came away with a 3-1 victory Friday night at New Canaan High School.

Ridgefield edged New Canaan by two points in the first set; the Rams took the second by 10; and the Tigers finished off the match by winning the next two for a 25-23, 15-25, 25-19, 25-18 decision.

“The first two sets, I thought we were in it, against obviously one of the best teams in the FCIAC,” New Canaan head coach Kevin Marino said. “But my overall impression is that we didn’t want it today. We didn’t have that want and we didn’t execute. When you’re playing a team as good as they are, you’ve got to do that.”

Ridgefield was a bit banged up coming into the match and received some much-needed help from a few of its reserves.

“I was missing a few starters today with injuries and stuff, so I was glad we got the win tonight,” Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere said. “New Canaan is a much-improved program, they have Carson (Allsteadt), and we knew they’re a good team. I’m glad my girls were able to put it together.”

The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for New Canaan, which is 11-6 overall and 8-5 in the conference, a record which has them tied with Trumbull and Westhill for sixth place, and just one win behind Staples, which is 9-5 in the league.

The Rams will face first-place St. Joseph on Monday before taking on Staples and Westhill to close the regular season.

For the Tigers, the win boosted their records to 12-2 overall and 11-2 in the FCIAC, as they moved closer to securing home-court advantage for the league quarterfinals. Ridgefield trails only St. Joseph (13-0 FCIAC) and Greenwich (12-2) in the standings.

Ridgefield finishes the regular season with matches at Norwalk and home against Westhill and Warde.

Friday’s match featured two of the FCIAC’s top players on opposite sides of the court: Allsteadt for New Canaan and Caroline Curnal for Ridgefield. Neither star disappointed.

Allsteadt had a match-best 25 kills and 19 digs; and Curnal led the Tigers with 20 kills to go along with nine digs and two aces.

Freshman Olivia Wanicka was filling in at setter for Ridgefield and racked up 32 assists and a pair of blocks, while senior Taylor Brand moved to Libero and had 16 digs and two aces. Junior Ava Fazio contributed four blocks to the defense, and senior Alicia Hill had six kills.

“I had a freshman out there setting, Olivia Wanicka,” Cibere said. “This was her first start ever and she did really well. And Taylor Brand stepped in at Libero and she was great. I was happy with the way they pulled through.”

For New Canaan, junior setter Emma Wheeler had 41 assists, 11 digs, and three aces; senior Jessica Parrino had 11 kills and 23 digs; and senior Libero Carey Callahan collected 32 digs.

The two teams were virtually even in the first set before Ridgefield edged out a 25-23 win, but the Rams looked great in the second frame, blowing open a 10-10 score with a 15-5 finishing run.

“Our serving was really good,” Marino said. “We served tough and put some pressure on, and we were passing the ball well, too. When you’re serving well, good things happen. Then we started making some silly mistakes and you can’t do it against a team like that.”

In the third set, New Canaan took an early lead, but the Tigers came back and grabbed their first lead at 16-15. Four more points made it 20-15 and the teams then traded points until Ridgefield put it away at 25-19.

“I told them ‘hey, we just have to play our game’,” Cibere said. “We all practice together, so no matter who’s out there, if we play our game, we’ll be fine. “Defensively, we picked it up and settled. Curnal and Taylor Brand had some nice ups, especially when Carson was swinging. And Julia Kocsis was playing middle back and she stepped up.”

Ridgefield was rolling at the start of the fourth frame, winning eight of the first nine points before the Rams made a run and closed to 13-10. New Canaan couldn’t get any closer than three points and the Tigers eventually finished it off at 25-18.

“When you bury yourself in a hole, it’s really hard to pull yourself out,” Marino said. “We’ve been good at it this year, but we can’t do it every time.”

Considering the injuries on her team, Cibere was pleased her team could get out of New Canaan with a victory.

“They’re a very good team, so to beat them 3-1 without my starting lineup — I’m very happy with that,” she said.

For New Canaan, the game was an example of how strong the FCIAC is as a conference from top to bottom.

“There’s not one game in this entire league where you can think ‘yeah, we’re definitely going to win’,” Marino said. “You’ve got to come to play every single day.”