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Friday, November 24 High School Sports

FCIAC girls soccer playoff preview: Defense rules at top

If you love seeing scoreboards lit up with goals, the FCIAC girls soccer tournament might not be for you.

If you prefer tactically well-played, defensive-minded games with flashes of offensive brilliance, come on in, you are in the right place.

Four of the qualifying teams this season have allowed fewer than 10 goals over a 16-game regular season.

The playoffs begin with Ridgefield chasing not just its third straight championship but also looking to join Wilton with a league-best ninth overall girls soccer championship.

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Friday’s schedule

No. 8 Wilton (9-6-1) at No. 1 Staples (12-3-1), 3:30 p.m.

No. 7 Brien McMahon (10-4-2) at No. 2 St. Joseph (11-1-4), 3:30 p.m.

No. 5 Darien (11-2-3) at No. 4 Ridgefield (11-2-3), 4 p.m.

No. 6 Trumbull (10-3-3) at No. 3 Warde (12-3-1), 4:30 p.m.

THE FAVORITES

STAPLES WRECKERS: At the top of the pack in terms of defensive stinginess, the Wreckers have only allowed seven goals all season while posting 10 shutouts. In the back, Annie Amacker is the cornerstone while Anna Sivinski has been excellent in goal. Player to watch: Reese Sutter patrols the middle of the field, aiding the defense but also responsible for turning the ball upfield and starting the attack.

ST. JOSEPH CADETS: The runner-up the last two seasons, St. Joe’s came in this year as the preseason favorite to win it all. The regular season has done nothing to change that preseason positivity with the Cadets only losing one game.The Cadets have outscored opponents 57-12 with an offense that can pile on goals. Player to watch: Center midfielder Jessica Mazo can do it all in the middle. She is a plus defender, can finish on goal with the best of them but really shines distributing the ball.

THE CONTENDERS

WARDE MUSTANGS: Warde snuck in as the No. 8 team a year ago but this year it has firmly planted itself in the thick of the playoffs. The Mustangs closed the season 10-1-1 and enter the playoffs as a hot commodity. Player to watch: Midfielder Lauren Tangney has established herself as one of the FCIAC’s top players. She can dribble around defenders like they are standing still and may be the most dangerous scoring threat in the state.

RIDGEFIELD TIGERS: The Tigers equaled Staples with 10 shutouts, allowing just eight shutouts. The Tigers have won back-to-back FCIAC titles and despite taking graduation losses, are primed for a run back to the finals. Wilton and Trumbull are the only teams to have won three titles in a row; Ridgefield would love to join that club. Player to watch: Tigers captain and four-year starting midfielder Kathryn Barlow is one of the league’s best defenders with an uncanny ability to win 50-50 balls and thus control games.

DARIEN BLUE WAVE: Count the Blue Wave among the teams that simply do not allow the ball into their net with just nine goals against, anchored by defender Emily DeNunzio. The offense patiently waits for its opportunities, but Darien has been taking advantage of those opportunities. Player to watch: Striker Katie Ramsay uses her athleticism and height to pick apart opposing offenses. Most dangerous when receiving on set pieces, Ramsay can make teams pay even when closely marked.

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THE FIELD

TRUMBULL EAGLES: Trumbull has not played in a final since winning it all in 2006. This team is good enough to get there with a defense that let up only eight goals. Trumbull lost to playoff teams Darien, Warde and Wilton, all by 1-0. Player to watch: Having a great defensive midfielder is the key to playing well in this league and Trumbull has just that in Eva Solano. Solano is not just a defender, also able to turn the ball back to the Eagles’ attack with skill.

MCMAHON SENATORS: The Senators have turned their program around the last two years and now find themselves in unfamiliar waters, playing in the league playoffs. Striker Peyton McNamara is as dangerous up top as any player in the league. Player to watch: Playing out of the midfield, Chloe Ortolano is the motor of the Senator’s attack, working in concert with McNamara to form one of the league’s best 1-2 punches. She can finish near the goal and is a stellar distributor.

WILTON WARRIORS: Wilton has won a league-best nine championships but has not taken home a title since 2005. To do so they will have to knock off teams they went 1-6 against in the regular season. Sophie Sudano anchors a midfield that will be called upon to keep the Warriors in games. Player to watch: The Wilton offense runs through striker Lindsay Groves. The Boston College commit is hard to mark with one player, forcing teams to concentrate resources to stop her. Groves will miss the quarterfinals due to her receiving a red card in the regular-season finale.

Sericson@stamfordadvocate.com; @EricsonSports

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