New Canaan’s Dillyn Patten (right), and Ridgefield’s Amelia Hynes (13) battle for the ball during the Rams’ 1-0 win at Dunning Field on Saturday. — Dave Stewart photo
The New Canaan Rams have found motivation and drive in their status as underdogs in the FCIAC girls soccer playoff race. After their last couple of victories over league contenders, they may find it a bit more difficult to keep that underdog role.
The Rams delivered a shock to the system as they became the first team this season to score a goal against, and then defeat, the Ridgefield Tigers with a 1-0 decision Saturday at Dunning Field.
New Canaan’s Olivia Bognon (13) goes up for a header. — Dave Stewart photo
Sophomore Emma Schuh hit the back of the net in the 26th minute after receiving a pass from freshman Kaleigh Harden and that stood up as the game’s only tally.
“The girls did fantastic,” head coach Rich Hickson said. “We came out and we knew it was going be a tough game. Ridgefield is a fantastic team; Iain (Golding) does a wonderful job with them; and their record speaks for itself. But we’ve had some good results, some positive results and we were coming in confident. We wanted to play hard, not play on the back foot and really go for it.”
The game was the Rams’ second straight victory against an FCIAC contender — they defeated rival Darien 1-0 last Tuesday — and they are now in the league’s top four with a shot at a home match in the FCIAC quarterfinals. New Canaan is unbeaten in its last seven games, with six wins and one tie.
Ridgefield, meanwhile, suffered its first loss and is now 10-1-1 overall, with both the tie and the loss coming in its last two games.
The Tigers had been unscored upon this season, and had racked up 36 goals in its first 11 games, but even those gaudy numbers couldn’t shake the Rams.
“We knew we could do it,” senior co-captain Katelyn Sparks said. “It’s a whole team game. We have a lot of speed in the front, but it starts in the back, it starts with us getting the ball down, controlling the ball in the midfield, and then getting it up to our strikers. We’ve been successful with that, so we knew we could score today.”
Schuh delivered the game’s only only goal after receiving a pass from Harden in the 26th minute. Schuh placed her shot to the short side, just over the hand of Ridgefield keeper Lauren Castle and inside the post.
“The goal was fantastic,” Hickson said. “Emma has done a fantastic job all year. She’s strong, quick, she got in behind and it was a great finish.”
The Rams celebrate at the end of their win over Ridgefield at Dunning Field
Armed with a 1-0 lead, New Canaan’s defense was unbreakable. Keeper Jordan Paterson made three saves, while backs Sparks, senior co-captain Caroline Schuh, sophomore McKenna Harden and junior Katherine Lisecky limited the Tigers’ opportunities.
“Once we scored, we knew we could hold them,” Sparks said. “Our defense has been strong this year. We have two captains on defense so it works out really well. We’re really talkative, and we’ve gotten a lot of confidence because we know our coaches trust us in the back.”
“They’ve been great all year,” Hickson said of the defense. “We switched it up a little bit and went with the back five including Jordan, and they did a fantastic job again.”
While the defense did its job, the Ram offense and midfield hustled all over the field, winning many of the 50-50 balls and keeping the play on Ridgefield’s half for much of the second half.
Senior co-captain Kendall Patten, freshman Dillyn Patten, Kaleigh Harden, Emma Schuh, and Olivia Bognon all played key roles in the attack.
Castle came up big in the net during the 49th minute for Ridgefield, making two diving hand saves against Dillyn and Kendall Patten as the Rams pushed for a two-goal lead.
New Canaan senior co-captain Katelyn Sparks (12) goes head to head with Ridgefield’s Julia Bragg (20). — Dave Stewart photo
Paterson returned the favor in the 59th minute, when she grabbed a shot through traffic by Ridgefield’s Faith Arnold. That ended a wild series as the Tigers turned up the heat for a few minutes.
In the 66th minute, Emma Schuh sent a pass to senior Bridget Salmini on the right side. Salmini’s shot sailed past Castle, but banged off the crossbar to end the threat.
“We had the momentum, which carries on, and we’ve had the results, which breeds confidence,” Hickson said after the win. “We knew this stretch was going to be all tough games, so to get the result against Darien and again here today, is just fantastic.”
As for their underdog profile, the Rams feel it’s still intact, especially given the strength of the conference.
“Even though we’re getting towards the top of the FCIAC, we always have that underdog mentality,” Sparks said. “We have a couple of girls who are playing club soccer, but these other teams are all year-round soccer players. We’re not single-sport athletes, we’re athletes all-around.”
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