Robson's hat trick helps Ridgefield win Senior Night game

After his team failed to score in its last two games — a 2-0 loss to Staples and a 0-0 tie with New Canaan —Ridgefield High girls soccer coach Iain Golding decided it was time to tinker.

The initial results were encouraging.

Getting three goals from junior striker Mackenzie Robson, Ridgefield routed Norwalk, 5-0, in its Senior Night game Wednesday evening Tiger Hollow.

Even though the Tigers started the season unbeaten through their first 11 games, there was one uncertainty: A failure to finish chances, particularly against stronger opponents. The struggle was expected, as Ridgefield lost leading scorers Katie Jasminski and Alexandra Damron to graduation.

On Wednesday night, Golding shifted the Tigers' formation, moving standout central defender Claire Middlebrook from the backline to the forward line in hopes of injecting life into his team's offense.

The tactical change was not simply an idea pulled from a hat. Whether providing goals or assists on free kicks or converting corner kicks, Middlebrook has had her fingerprints on many Ridgefield goals this season. That contribution on the offensive end, a trait rare for a defender, led Golding to experiment by moving Middlebrook to forward.

For the first 20 minutes, the switch did not translate to goals, as Ridgefield struggled to get the ball to Middlebrook up top. But when the Tigers finally did, the results were brilliant. In the 20th minute, Middlebrook beat a defender on the left side and tracked towards the center, gaining the attention of the Norwalk goalkeeper before delivering a beautiful service to Robson for an easy finish and a 1-0 lead.

“I am a defender at heart, but wherever I’m helping us out the most is where I want to be," said Middlebrook. "My main goal is helping the team win. We have had some difficulty scoring at times, so trying out different strategies before the postseason starts is going to help the team be in the best position possible to defend the FCIAC championship.”

Six minutes later, Robson found the back of the net again, gaining control of the ball after a scrum in front of the goal and depositing it neatly into the back of the Norwalk net for her second goal of the night.

With a 2-0 lead, Middlebrook moved back to her typical spot on the backline for the second half, bolstering a stifling defense that has now allowed just six goals in 14 games. The Tigers continued to shut down Norwalk, while also adding three more goals.

In the 56th minute, sophomore Caitlin Slaminko rocketed a shot off the Norwalk goalkeeper. The rebound found the feet of classmate Megan Klosowski, who finished the scoring opportunity to extend the lead to 3-0.

Thirteen minutes later, Robson collected her own rebound and sent a shot into the top right corner of the goal to complete her hat trick. Slaminko ended the scoring by converting a penalty kick with four minutes remaining, as the Tigers finished off the 5-0 win and raised their record to 10-1-3.

“We only have two games left in the regular season and these two games are really important to determine our league rankings. We really have to be competitive in order to earn a game at home in the first round of FCIACs,” said senior captain Emma Jacobson. “Overall, the team is just really excited to enter the tournament and continue to prove to the rest of the league that Ridgefield isn’t the underdog that everyone expected us to be.”