Only two things are ever of mind for the New Canaan girls swimming and diving team when it enters the pool: synergy and getting down to business.

For years, that combination has carried the Rams to great success at both the conference and state level. And in 2014, the program formula isn't about to change.

Fresh off a second-place finish in last year's State Open, senior captains Olivia Rusch and Grace Stryker have worked to hone the focus of their young squad for the upcoming season. And, per longtime coach David Fine, the duo has already managed to bring about an encouraging atmosphere.

"I think the vibe this year is a very positive vibe. Already in the first week, I feel like this is a family," Fine said. "I couldn't be happier with the first week they had or this group of girls."

Rusch and Stryker, who together comprise half of New Canaan's four-person senior class, have instilled an understanding that the high school level is about more than competing for one's self. But in practice, swimming becomes all pushing your personal limits. For, according to Stryker, the latter will be exactly how the Rams return to the top of the leaderboard this fall.

"If you do your best, that's the No. 1 thing," Stryker said. "Our coaches know when we do our best. They know when we're not trying hard. And it's about pushing yourself every practice. That's how you know you're successful through the year."

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Meanwhile Rusch, whose older sisters have played large parts in the program's successful history, will willingly preach to the team's business-like approach handed down from Fine. For example, unlike other teams, New Canaan refuses to engage in any sort showy activites during meets. Instead, they're going to keep their to-do list simple.

"We get our heads in the meet, we cheer for each other and we do our best. That's all we can do," Rusch said. "When it comes to championship season, things get tiring ... and to have your team all together there, even if they're not swimming, to be there cheering for you, it almost feels like they're in the pool. And that's what makes you feel good and builds team bonding."

The two captains will be relied upon heavily to help replace the losses of the Rams' 2013 senior class, which included a two-time state champion in the 200-meter freestyle and many members of past title relay teams. In addition, New Canaan's rising junior group must produce in postseason meets down the road, though Fine believes they are more than capable.

"We really hope the sophomores and freshmen can do their part, but we look to put weight on the shoulders of the upperclassmen," he said.

Among the underclassmen, sophomore Carolyn Kemp barely missed out on the Rams' state competition lineup one year ago and enters this season after a hard summer of training. She, along with Lizzie Colwell and Caroline Sweeney, project to be key members of future New Canaan squads, who also ought to be able to contribute this fall.

The Rams' first meet of the 2014 season is schedule for Friday at Staples beginning at 6 p.m.

acallahan@bcnnew.com

@DNCSports