The defending Division I state champion New Canaan High School girls' lacrosse team is relying on several new players to carry the team back to the pinnacle this spring. Among seven graduates were six starters, leaving it up to some inexperienced players to keep hold of the crown.

Despite the substantial turnover, the Rams have high hopes to at least contend to retain their hold on state bragging rights come playoff time. One thing is for sure: The Rams can't win their second straight D-I title, but that's because of a new tournament setup. Instead of two divisions, there are now three classes -- L, M and S. New Canaan will be in Class M and, thus will no longer have to worry about Greenwich, one of the always-strong contenders which lost to the Rams by just a goal in last year's state finale. But New Canaan will have to deal with last year's D-I semifinalists, Darien, along with Wilton.

"I think the big four are always going to be in the mix and there might be a few teams that surprise us," said New Canaan coach Kristin Wood, alluding to Staples and Fairfield Ludlowe, teams that matched up in last year's D-II championship game, as possible surprise teams. The big four she refers to are Greenwich, Darien, Wilton and New Canaan.

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Darien also had a lot of graduation-forced turnovers, but Wood expects the local rivals to again be a threat.

"Darien always does a good job of rebuilding. I'm sure they're going to be just as good as they were last year," she said.

The Rams lost to Wilton in the FCIAC finals, and are hungry not only for another state title, but for that elusive conference championship.

"We're definitely in a rebuilding year and I'm going to expect a lot more of our underclassmen, but I think they have a lot of experience from other sports and I think they'll step up to the plate," Wood said.

The team, despite all of its success, has not won the FCIAC title during the senior class's tenure, and senior captain Liz DeTour said the Rams are shooting for the championship this time around.

"I'm definitely really excited. I think we have a lot of potential this year," DeTour said.

Wood is confident in her offense and notes that the defense is young and will have to develop quickly.

"Play to the best of their ability -- that's all a coach can expect," Wood said of her young team. "It should be fun. They're definitely a different dynamic than the last group."

This year's senior captains are midfielder Lauren Freeland and attack players DeTour and Erin Markey. Other key seniors are midfielder Abby Lee and Jana Persky, who will most likely be in the midfield. Persky is a first-year lacrosse player, but brings plenty of experience in winning from the hockey team.

Among other players whom Wood is looking for big things from are junior midfielder Sarah Mannelly, junior defender Julia Tuttle and junior defender Hannah Femia. Sophomore attack player Olivia Hompe is another weapon for this team. Sophomore Elizabeth O'Sullivan, who got some varsity exposure in the nets a year ago, takes over the starting netminding duties in 2011.

Graduates Kasey Pippett and Anjlie Christy -- both currently playing Division I collegiate lacrosse -- along with Erin Fessler, Shelby Barada, Betsy Hart, Charlotte Spitzfaden and Leah Tobin will be missed, and was the freshman class when Wood began her coaching tenure at New Canaan.

"We've got a lot of young athletes," said Wood, adding that the sophomore class is the biggest class on the team with seven representatives. "We're looking for players to step up and surprise," the coach said.

The Rams, who went 14-1 and were the No. 2 seed in the D-I state tourney last spring, got off to a winning start this year, toppling Brien McMahon 18-3 on April 6, then edging Ludlowe 6-4 the next day.