New Canaan’s Olivia Bognon (13) defends as Ridgefield’s Tasha Riek works with the ball during the FCIAC girls soccer final Thursday at Warde High School. — Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media photo
The New Canaan Rams weren’t really on anyone’s radar as a contender for the FCIAC girls soccer championship when the season began in September. Surprising everyone and getting to the final, however, doesn’t make coming up one goal short feel any better.
After nearly 70 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Ridgefield Tigers received a goal from sophomore Grace Michalowski and went on to defeat the the Rams, 1-0, for the conference championship Thursday night at Fairfield-Warde High School.
It was the third league title in four years for third-seeded Ridgefield (16-2-1), which won in 2015 and 2016 before returning to the winner’s circle this season.
For the fourth-seeded Rams (14-5-1), this season marked their first trip to the final since 2009 when they finished as co-champs alongside Ridgefield.
“We haven’t made the FCIAC finals for almost 10 years — since ’09 — and with us coming in as underdogs, we made a name for ourselves by getting here,” senior co-captain Kendall Patten said. “I’m incredibly proud of the team and what we’ve accomplished this year.”
“The message to the girls is just to realize what they’ve achieved,” head coach Rich Hickson said. “There’s only two teams here competing in the finals, so the fact that they made it this far is a huge accomplishment and they should be extremely proud of what they’ve achieved this season.”
Ridgefield’s eight seniors on Ridgefield will go out as champions in three of their four seasons.
“Obviously, winning three out of four years, that’s a tremendous feeling,” Claire Middlebrook, the MVP of the final, said. “After last year, we were ready to reclaim our title.”
Middlebrook started the winning play in the 70th minute with a long free kick from 40 yards out. The ball pinballed around the left side of the box before sophomore Grace Michalowski got her head on it and sent inside the right post for the game’s only goal.
“Yesterday, I worked with our assistant coach really practicing those free kicks and placement,” Middlebrook said. “I just placed it into the general goal area and Grace was there to get on the end of it.”
The Tigers’ defense and keeper Lauren Castle (5 saves) then made that goal stand up for the championship.
New Canaan hadn’t conceded a goal in the first two playoffs rounds, and kept the Tigers off the board for nearly 70 minutes, as goalie Jordan Paterson (4 saves) and backs Katelyn Sparks and Caroline Schuh, senior co-captains, junior Katherine Lisecky and sophomore McKenna Harden were strong throughout.
The first half featured a lot of back and forth play, but not many opportunities. New Canaan had the better of play and put two shots on net, both taken by Kendall Patten at range and both grabbed by Castle.
“We had periods where we were on top,” Hickson said. “It was a bit back and forth, but there were certainly periods where we were on top, we were pressuring and we forced a couple of chances. We were just unable to take advantage of those chances we carved out.”
Ridgefield’s first shot didn’t come until the 40th minute when Michalowski got in close, but Ram Paterson made that stop.
Ram freshman Dillyn Patten had a nice chance in the 36th minute on a bouncer into the box. She was able to get a leg on it, but the glancing blow sailed over the top. Junior Olivia Bognon followed a few minutes later with a hard shot which hit the football goalposts.
“It was tough because those opportunities did show themselves,” Kendall Patten said. “We dominated the first half, and that encouraged us more throughout the game to keep our heads up and keep going. We had a lot of the possession the game.”
Play evened out over the next 10 minutes before Michalowski’s goal put Ridgefield on top.
The Tigers not only regained the league title, but avenged their only two losses of the season, defeating St. Joseph in the semis and New Canaan in the final.
“We managed to beat St. Joe’s in the semifinal and New Canaan now,” Ridgefield head coach Iain Golding said. “For us, those were tough losses, but at the same time, you learn from them, you grow from them, and we’ve taken what happened in those games and changed what we do so we could beat them.”
“When you get to these finals, it’s always won by fine margins,” Hickson added. “Today was certainly the case. We battled extremely hard for 80 minutes, we were in the game and we created chances. But credit to Ridgefield, they took one of the chances they created.”
FCIAC Girls Soccer Final
Thurs., Nov. 1, at Fairfield-Warde HS
New Canaan 0-0 0
Ridgefield 0-1 1
Goals: R—Grace Michalowski: Goalies: NC—Jordan Paterson 4 saves; R—Lauren Castle 5 saves
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New Canaan’s Collins set to start as TCU football’s QB
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Michael Collins looks downfield during his time as the starting QB with the Rams. — Dave Stewart photo The TCU Horned Frogs didn’t have the greatest football game on Saturday, falling to No. 9 Oklahoma 52-27, but sophomore Michael Collins of New Canaan made an impact at quarterback. So much of an impact, in fact, […]
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The Class LL Football Final by the Numbers: New Canaan, Greenwich and a clash of titans
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New Canaan senior co-captain Quintin O’Connell in action during the Class LL semifinals on Sunday. O’Connell has 25 receptions for 248 yards in two playoff games so far. — Dave Stewart photo The New Canaan Rams and Greenwich Cardinals will clash for a state football championship on Saturday and this edition of Rams by the […]
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