There is no hiding the truth here: New Canaan High School's softball team has struggled in recent years. The Rams were 4-16 a year ago and, coming into this season, the outsider might think just getting enough wins to qualify for the postseason would be a lofty goal.

"Our goals go beyond that," said head coach Larry Tomaselli, who believes in setting the bar high but without looking too far ahead. "I expect them to have a good solid year."

The talent seems to be finally coming to fruition.

And why not? Not only did the Rams not have a single senior on last year's team, but a group of strong freshmen also come into the program with travel softball experience under their belts.

"That makes a big difference," Tomaselli said.

Enough of a difference, in fact, that several of those first-year players were slated to be in the starting lineup as the preseason wrapped up last week.

"Most of the girls out there have played travel ball," the coach said, while watching his players field balls in the grass under warm, sunny skies during a preseason practice.

The Rams are led by senior captain and right fielder Kristen Hogan and junior captains Tory Rusch (left fielder) and catcher Lindsey Schmid, along with junior third baseman Brianna Valente, who is battling a sprained ankle to start the year. Those players will certainly be critical -- as they bring as much talent as this team has seen in years -- to turning the culture around in New Canaan.

"We've got good leadership," Tomaselli said. The coach added that the younger players are poised and aren't nervous, which he said is a credit to the older players and their ability to guide their up-and-coming teammates.

Freshmen who join the team this spring are pitcher Cydney Ventura.

"She's extremely poised -- extremely poised for a freshman. She just gets out there and throws," Tomaselli said. "She mixes it up. She's got a lot of confidence."

Ventura has a handful of different pitches, including a fastball, changeup and curve. Shortstop Jordan Ventura, Cydney's twin, and second baseman Britt Overacker are two more freshmen whom the coach will turn to despite their youth.

"They should not be concerned about the fact they're as young as they are," said Tomaselli, adding that their travel experience should go a long way.

Although the coach believes his team can get to the state playoffs and have some success in the postseason, he is taking a day-at-a-time approach.

"I just expect them to go out and play this game pitch by pitch and good things will happen for them," he said. "I want to focus on the little things and the big things will take care of themselves."

No matter how well the Rams do this spring, the addition of experienced freshmen who have developed their skills in travel leagues bodes well for a bright future.

"It's great for now, and great for next year -- and great for right on down the road," Tomaselli said.