For the 2012 New Canaan girls tennis team, the third time was the charm.

After being defeated in the regular season and in the FCIAC championship by Greenwich, New Canaan finally avenged the losses by picking up a tense 4-3 win in the Class L state tournament championship match.

The nail-biting victory set the stage for the Rams to enter the 2013 campaign with a title to defend.

"We had lost to Greenwich twice and the third was the state final and we met and won," said captain and likely No. 2 singles player Kate Howard, who rallied out of a 5-2 hole in the third set to win her match in the state championship to give New Canaan the title over Greenwich. "Everyone pulled together, everything worked out and it was the best feeling in the world. To be in that match was great."

The highly-competitive 2012 matches with the Cardinals have only fanned the flames of what was already an intense rivalry. In fact, the Rams' only two losses of the regular season and playoffs came at the hands of the Cardinals, as New Canaan was a perfect 20-0 in non-Greenwich matches.

"The New Canaan-Greenwich rivalry is definitely one that people look forward to. It gets heated, not gonna lie," New Canaan captain and likely No. 1 doubles player Sara Greene said. "Going in as state champs is always good because it sets a tone early in the season to defend our title, and that's what we look forward to doing each year."

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But the FCIAC isn't likely to be just a two-team race, and there are a few other matches that the Rams may have already circled on the calendar.

"Definitely looking forward to Greenwich; that's always one of the better matches of the season," Greene said. "Darien, Fairfield Ludlowe and Ridgefield are always great competitors too. It's always close."

Second year coach Erin Gildea indicated that there is still some competition when it comes to filling up the final spots on the varsity lineup, though some returning players will definitely be in the lineup for the team's first match.

"We are kind of finding the pieces. Jensen Lee will be back in singles, Kate Howard, Emily Brand we know will play singles but we're not quite sure where. Sara Greene and Kristin Laub will be back playing doubles. Amanda Merjian has been a fantastic doubles player, and she'll definitely be back," Gildea said. "After that there's a group of six or seven girls that are really close and we're figuring out who's going to be playing where."

The Rams, which will have seven seniors on their varsity team, should have an experience advantage on virtually the entire conference.

"We've got a big senior class and we really just want to send them out on a high note," Gildea said. "It's invaluable to have a group of seven (seniors). That's more than half the team that every year has played in FCIAC and state championships."

The Rams lost just two players, though both were All FCIAC and All State, as top singles player Courtney Gallagher and one half of the top doubles tandem, Phoebe Wilkes, each graduated.

"It's good that we all know each other pretty well because we only lost two people. We all gelled last year and I think we're going to do the same thing this year," Howard said. "There have definitely been people who have worked hard in the offseason." Twitter: @jchik17