New Canaan High School's boys' lacrosse team, with a wealth of underclassmen in the lineup, appears to be in good shape for at least the next couple of years. What remains to be seen is just how strong the defending Class M State Tournament runners-up are in 2011. The Rams have created a tradition of winning but have to overcome the loss of 17 graduates from a year ago.

"We have a lot of holes that need to be filled," coach Alex Whitten said.

Among the key graduates were six long pole players, four midfielders and two attack players all of whom started or saw significant playing time, including middies Cody Newton, Sam Stanton and Christian Powell to name a few.

"You lose a lot of veteran leadership," Whitten said of the impact of the large graduating class. "That's an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up and show what they've got."

Whitten said the team brings back strong leadership at each position and players who have had some varsity exposure.

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"We do have guys who have played in big positions. We do have guys who are battle-tested and battle-proven," the coach said.

The team's goaltenders are senior Jimmy Joe Granito and junior Tom Carey, both of whom are highly skilled at the position and make Whitten's job somewhat difficult when it comes to choosing which netminder to turn to on a given day.

Senior midfielder Joe Costigan, a returning All-American, will lead a mostly-young group of middies. Other key players whom Whitten expects big things from are junior middies John Brainard and Jake Miller and sophomore midfielder Duke Repko, along with sophomore attack player Puck Richardson. The coach also points to senior long stick middie/defender Willie Gould and senior attack player Scott O'Brien as significant returnees the team will look to for a spark.

"This is a great group of kids and we look forward to working hard with them and watching them grow and get better as lacrosse players," Whitten said.

Despite the high turnover of players, and considering there are talented players back to fill the voids, Whitten says the goals remain the same as always: to win FCIAC and State championships.

"The winning takes care of itself if we do the little things," he said.

"We're young but I think guys are going to step up," Granito said. "We have the talent to do it year in and year out. I think it's a matter of executing."

"I'm excited. We did lose a lot of guys but I'm excited for the season," said Costigan, adding that the Rams were feeling good vibes as the preseason unfolded. "I think we can definitely contend for a State championship and for an FCIAC championship."

The Rams certainly will have their work cut out as the season unfolds. In addition to playing the usual tough FCIAC foes, including Darien, Greenwich and Wilton, the Rams will again face some tough out-of-state teams, including Somers, John Jay and Rye of New York, and Lawrenceville of New Jersey.

"We've got a tough road. We've got a hard schedule across the board," Whitten said.

"Every day we're going to have to come to work hard. I think every day's going to be grind for us," Granito said.