Most teams like to ease their way into a new season, but the New Canaan field hockey squad will not have that luxury.

The Rams, who are coming off an 11-6-1-1 campaign, open with a blockbuster matchup as they host archrival Darien in their first game on Wednesday.

New Canaan coach Erin Gildea was asked who put together that schedule.

"Somebody who doesn't like us," she joked.

It's obviously a big early test for a team that Gildea thinks can make a lot of noise this fall with a nice blend of seniors and younger players.

"We have a good mix of experience and new talent and I think we're very deep," Gildea said. "We have a lot of girls that are going to be able to come off the bench and contribute."

Senior captain Michelle Halpert has been slowed by a pulled hamstring and likely will not play against Darien but is expected to be a major contributor once she gets back into the lineup.

"It's scary (opening with Darien), but it's exciting and it makes us work 10 times harder than we normally do," Halpert said.

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The Rams graduated goaltender Britt Gardella along with their entire backline. But they return all-state senior midfielder Bridget Falcone, who will serve as one of four captains with classmates Bea Eppler, Michelle Paturzo and Halpert. Eppler earned all-FCIAC East honors last season. Another senior who will receive significant playing time is Martel Bruno.

"We'd love to get back to the FCIAC championship, state championship game and win this time," said Gildea, who is beginning her fourth season at New Canaan. "I think I finally got the talent to do so. The tough thing is just that the league is so incredibly deep. There's no easy games and that can also hurt come state time because you wind up with a lower seed than you deserve."

New Canaan lost to Darien in the FCIAC championship game and the Class M state finals in 2009, Gildea's first season. Last year, they fell to Wilton in the FCIAC semifinals, then were beaten by Norwalk in the second round of the Class L state tournament.

Junior Emma Ball, a new student at New Canaan by way of Switzerland, replaces Gardella in goal while senior Alexa Ozimek will take over the defensive line.

Gildea is looking for Abigail Jameson, a returning junior, to help pick up the slack offensively along with Falcone and Eppler. Scoring goals was a problem for the Rams last year, but Gildea does not anticipate that being an issue this season.

"We had a hard time scoring goals last season and I think this season we'll be able to find the back of the cage more often, which hopefully will take some of the pressure off the defense, which is going to be fantastic. They just need some time to jell and learn how to work together. Once that happens, I think top to bottom we're looking very strong."

Junior Page Jones is expected to play a major role this season and Gildea also is looking to receive contributions from sophomores Mackenzie Lewis and Elizabeth Miller.

"Our forwards have been working hard and our tempo has gotten a lot better," Halpert said. "We're working on moving the ball more, so our scoring will be better. Keeping it in the circle will help us score."

"Our forward line seems more united and we definitely have the drive to get it in the cage," Paturzo added.

So bring on the Wave, ready or not.

"I know the girls feel a lot of pressure playing them, so it might be nice to get them out of the way," Gildea said. "Learn from the game, win or loss, and we'll have a chance to improve and hopefully see them again."