After her younger sister Mackenzie scored the first goal in the FCIAC Central Region field hockey finals, Riley Peters harbored no thoughts of adding one of her own.
“Definitely not,” said Riley, a senior captain on this fall’s Ridgefield field hockey team. “Mackenzie is a forward and has been scoring in almost every game. I play midfield and love setting up opportunities for my teammates and getting the assists.”
The stats agreed: Through Ridgefield’s first nine games, Mackenzie, a freshman, had seven goals. Riley, meanwhile, had scored one goal, but assisted on eight others.
“Riley is the strong playmaker that won’t let anyone get in her way to get the ball up the field,” Ridgefield coach Jessica Smith said. “Mackenzie is the speedy finisher who puts the ball in the net.”
This time, however, it was Riley who finished off previously unbeaten Staples and provided the winning goal for the biggest win in program history.
“Aerin Krys cut to receive a free hit from Olivia DeStefano at the 16-yard line,” Smith said. “Aerin sent a leading pass to Izzy Redrup cutting back to the ball. She [Redrup] carried the ball to the right, pulling her Staples defenders. Izzy sent a slip pass right to Riley, who was just inside the circle. Riley carried the ball left to the center of the circle and took a reverse sweep shot and hit the back right corner of the goal.”
The goal, which came in the fourth quarter, gave Ridgefield a 2-0 lead. Staples was able to cut its deficit in half before time expired with the Tigers ahead and able to raucously celebrate their first ever post-season title.
For the Peters sisters even to have a season together was almost as unlikely as them scoring both goals in the championship game.
“There was no guarantee that Mackenzie would make the team as a freshman,” said Christie Peters, the sisters’ mother. “And then when she made the team there was no guarantee she would get much playing time.”
Mackenzie not only made the varsity squad but also became an instant force on offense.
“I was a little nervous the first week but everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, and as long as I worked my hardest at practices and games I felt like I fit in,” Mackenzie said. “I’ve worked really hard during the preseason and regular season … I didn’t expect to contribute this much but my hard work paid off.”
“Mackenzie has a great ability to cut in front of a defender to receive a pass, and then has explosive speed to break away from her defenders,” Smith said. “She is a very smart player and is able to get into the right spot to receive a pass from her midfielders. She has a very quick stick and excellent hand-eye coordination and was able to put the ball in the back of the net multiple times this season because of it.”
When Mackenzie made varsity, she and Riley drew closer to their goal of having one season together. But due to COVID-19, that season was wildly different. Instead of 16 regular-season games there were 10 scheduled, all against the same five opponents; instead of a conference-wide tournament there were three regional (East, West, Central) tournaments; instead of a state tournament … well, there was nothing, not even a watered-down, geographically limited state tournament.
But there was constant recognition of the perilous situation, with everything only a few COVID spikes away from shutting down.
“You never knew when a game might be the last for them together,” Christie Peters said.
Ridgefield was fortunate: The team avoided any internal COVID outbreaks and lost only two regular-season games — one when Norwalk had to quarantine and another when Ridgefield High School closed for a week.
In the eight regular-season games the Tigers played, they were quite good. Ridgefield won six of them, outscoring opponents by a combined 28-5. The only losses were both by one goal to Staples: 1-0 in overtime on Oct. 19 in Ridgefield and 2-1 on Oct. 21 in Westport.
The Peters sisters had a big something to do with that.
“Both sisters have a clear passion for not only field hockey but this team and program,” Smith said. “On the field they both have a very strong field presence. They are both fearless competitors. Riley is a very strong vocal leader. As a captain this season she was a huge part of the closeness of this team. Mackenzie has a quieter personality, but I imagine she will become just as much of a vocal leader over the years.
“I love to coach sisters,” Smith continued. “My big sister Caitlyn is the primary reason I got into the sport myself. She is five years older than me so we never got the opportunity to play in high school together, but we’ve played many pick up games together. You are automatically on the same wavelength and can connect very well on the field. That is something the Peters sisters definitely have.”
Following a 2-1 victory over Wilton in the FCIAC Central semifinals, the second-seeded Tigers got another shot at unbeaten top-seed Staples … and also at history.
“Our team was aware that we had never won a championship before and I think this really motivated us to want it more,” said Riley, who also played one season with her older sister Maddie, a defender, in 2018. “We worked so hard during the season and knew we could do it with this special group of girls. We wanted to win for the program and our coaches that believed in us. We went to practice and games every day with our heads up saying this is our year.”
As part of their tradition before important games, Riley and Mackenzie watched the movie Miracle (about the U.S. men’s hockey team’s gold-medal run in the 1980 Olympics) prior to the Central finals. And they listened to the same motivational playlist — which included get-pumped staples such as “We Are the Champions” and “Don’t Stop Believin” — that they had listened to throughout the season.
Then they went out and did the unexpected, scoring goals in the same game for the first time in their final game together.
“It was a special game in so many ways,” Riley said, “but I will always remember this game with us both getting important goals to win the championship.”