New Canaan High School's girls swim team enters into the fall campaign both looking to successfully defend one title and hungry to claim another that was just out of reach a year ago. Last year's FCIAC champions were also the Class L state championship's runners-up.

"The goals are the same every year. We go in saying `let's be competitive at the top and do what we need to do to win FCIACs, do what we need to do to win the division and do what we need to do to win the state open," New Canaan coach Dave Fine said.

Fine has won a pair of FCIAC titles and a state championship, and always been in the mix for both crowns in his 10 years of coaching the Rams.

He is optimistic that if some of the girls put together breakout seasons and the returning top competitors in the lineup continue to do what they are capable of doing, the results will equate to success by the end of the season.

Fine certainly doesn't expect winning it all to be easy in either postseason tourney.

"It's going to be a challenge. The competition's gotten to be 10 times stronger than it's been in other years," he said of the FCIAC and state division opponents.

Darien and Wilton, both from the FCIAC, and non-conference foes Cheshire and Pomperaug of Southbury, should all be tough tests in the Class L. Darien beat out New Canaan for first in the divisional meet, and Greenwich, another FCIAC rival, edged out the Rams for first in the season-ending state open.

Teams such as Norwalk, fifth in last year's FCIAC finals, and Westhill of Stamford, have emerged onto the scene as more competitive programs in recent years, and bring back a wealth of talent and experience.

Not that the Rams don't.

"We do have a lot coming back," Fine said. "We're a lot slimmer than we were last year numbers-wise. But I have full confidence that these girls are as good or even better than last year."

Fine says versatility will be a strength this fall. He said each of his swimmers is capable of competing in almost any event, giving him the option to alter his lineup for the best possible matchups and opportunities to win a specific race during a given match.

One of this year's captains is Maddie Rusch (50 yard freestyle and 100 butterfly). Rusch is the state record-holder in the 50 free and school recordholder in both events. Jess Musky-Goldwin (freestyle, backstroke) and divers Arianna Ross and Meredith Jonker are also captains.

Other key contributors whom Fine expects big things from are Jenna Egan, Alex Alio and Erin Dunstan.

The Rams will have to find girls to step up in the place of high placing postseason point-getters Alexandra Rusch, Adelyn Graf, Emma Toby, Cara Egan and Grace Duncan, who all graduated. In addition to bringing back a lot of big contributors, New Canaan has plenty of newcomers who looked good in preseason.

"I'm really excited. In the past three years I've been on the team we've done really well," Musky-Goldwin said. "I'm really excited because we have a lot of strong new swimmers this year."

"Our goals are to be at the top. I want to challenge the best. If we are the best that's a bonus," Fine said. "I'm confident that we can be right at the top, competing."

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