Few teams have as much fun during a season at New Canaan High as the girls track and field squad. That's in part because of the culture head coach Fred Word instilled in this group. And in the past 10 months, team members gave Word plenty to be optimistic about coming into the preseason -- both in what they did and in how many were a part of it.

Word was impressed by the commitment the girls showed by running regularly between the winter and spring campaigns, and he said the team has lots of depth among its freshmen and sophomore classes, the largest contingent of first- and second-year high schoolers he's had on the team.

Among 86 team members are 26 sophomores and 27 freshmen, and Word said that's about twice as many freshmen and sophomores as he's had on the team in the past.

Those younger runners, and the juniors and seniors alike, have worked hard to prepare for the regular season.

"We've had more girls out running than I think I've seen in my four years here," Word said.

And that's important as the team members enter the spring campaign in tip-top shape and ready to compete.

"We don't want them to shut down and not do anything from February 6 to March 22," said Word, speaking of the duration from the end of the indoor winter campaign to the start of spring practices. "With running, there's no way around it. You have to run. What you put into it is what you get out of it."

The team members were given running programs to keep active during the school vacation, the coach added.

"We have good potential out there. I'm excited," Word said. "We're going to be strong in middle distance and in our throwing events. I am so excited about the throwers."

The coach added that assistant Mary Ann Cohen works with the throwers, Art Brown with the middle-distance runners, Amy Fredericks with the distance runners and Rob

Frangione with the pole vault competitors.

The team's captains/top seniors are Elayne Stecher, Katie Burwick, Felicity Blance and Ashley Frangione, along with Hillary Ashley.

"We're looking for them to do a good job of leading the team," Word said.

Juniors Melanie Escalante, Anjelique Kyriakos, Katie McKeever, Caroline Murray, Austin Ready and Portia Schultz; sophomores Stephanie Benko, Carly Dumbauld, Alexis Najarian and Cara Schulte; and freshmen Ilene Anders, Katie DiFazio and Heather Schumacher are among the notable team participants with whom Word expects big things this season.

Word expects the svelte Murray to be among the top distance runners and Escalante to be a strong sprinter and middle-distance runner.

"This is an opportunity for us to hopefully do good things," Word said of the advantages of having such a deep lineup.

"We're hoping that everyone improves throughout the year, has a lot of fun -- we're really looking for team unity," said Burwick, who runs the mile and two-mile events.

New Canaan was 13th in the Class MM State Championships last year and begins its run toward the postseason in the regular-season opener, at home against Westhill and Norwalk on April 19. The Rams will host Wilton and Bassick on May 3 and will host St. Joseph of Trumbull and Brien McMahon on May 10.