With the loss of nine starters from last year's squad, one might guess that the untested 2013 New Canaan field hockey team would lower its expectations and transition into a rebuilding mode -- but that guess would be wrong.
This year's Rams are fired up and ready to light up the FCIAC.
"Our expectations are high based on our previous years," senior captain Tess Decker said. "We have a lot of young talent this year, and we are going to work hard to live up to that."
Coach Erin Gildea, an NCHS alumna who begins her fifth year at the helm, has seen a fiery zeal in this year's players.
"The girls are very hungry," she said. "And they have put in a lot of work in the offseason and are very dedicated."
New Canaan finished last year with a sparkling 14-3-2 record but came up short in bringing home a title. The Rams fell to Darien in the FCIAC semifinals and lost a heartbreaker in the Class L State quarterfinals. In that game -- one that still stings for New Canaan -- the Rams lost to New Milford, 1-0, in triple overtime.
"That was a tough way to end the season," Gildea said.
Key losses from last year's team include Bea Eppler and Bridget Falcone, both of whom received FCIAC First-Team honors.
"We are really working to incorporate the underclassmen to get them ready to take over the team," senior captain Page Jones said. "Since we lost nine out of 10 field starters, it is really creating a lot of open space for this year's team to live up to expectations and be one of those starters."
Happily, New Canaan does have veteran talent in a key position: Goalie. Senior captain Emma Ball, who received FCIAC honorable mention last year, will begin her second year as the starter, and Gildea is certainly happy to have here there.
"She is key and really one of the best goalies in the state," Gildea said.
Gildea is still figuring out who goes where and who plays well with whom.
"We have some work to do, but we definitely have the players to make it happen," Ball said of the defense.
The team would love to bring home a title, but that goal has proved elusive in recent years. While New Canaan field hockey is typically a competitive force in the postseason, the team has not garnered a State championship since 2003, and the last time they claimed an FCIAC crown was in 2000.
"That is one hump we have to get over," Gildea said.
Still, hopes are high.
"There is an eagerness in every girl to improve their game and get better," senior captain Abbie Jameson said. "Plus, we jive well together off the field, and that helps us on the field."
The captains reported that key match-ups this year include Wilton and, as always, Darien, which claimed both the State and FCIAC titles last year. They are aware, though, that every game will be a battle.
"The league is extremely deep, and there are eight or nine teams that can really make some noise," Gildea said.
The Rams start their season on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at home against Danbury.