Since the New Canaan boys golf team generally reloads rather than rebuilds, Rams coach Bill Brown has the same high expectations even though he only has one player back from last year's team that won the Division II state tournament for the third consecutive year.

Last season, New Canaan won its eighth state championship and third FCIAC crown under Brown, who is entering his 13th season as the Rams' mentor.

"We're going to try to continue the tradition of New Canaan golf," said Brown, whose team defeated Watertown by a whopping 18 strokes in the state championship.

That one returning player is senior Ben Katz, who was the Rams' No. 3 man last year. Katz shot a 74 in the FCIAC championship and a 75 in states.

"Ben played well in the FCIAC and states and is going to be a solid No. 1," Brown said. "We're going to follow his lead."

The Rams lost Brian Tohir, C.J. Swift, Alex Geanakos and Patrick Haggerty. Those players are scattered all across the country playing college golf. Tohir is at Georgetown, Swift is in Wisconsin attending Marquette, Geanakos is in Ohio at Denison College, a Division III school, and Haggerty is in upstate New York at Bucknell.

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"I told them don't forget me when your famous," Brown quipped.

Brown has a number of juniors vying for playing time, including Will Essigs, Michael Swift, C.J.'s brother, Mike Slattery and Tyler Sands. Senior Ryan Christie is up from the JV team with sophomore Connor Miller also in the mix.

Slattery suffered a broken collar bone in a skiing accident, but Brown hopes that the 11th-grader will be able to return early in the season.

"We have some very good juniors," Brown said, "but they haven't played in many varsity matches. I told them this is an opportunity to get some playing time and I'm looking for some of these kids to step up."

Most of the players battling for playing time averaged around 40 for the nine-hole matches last season, which means they are going to have to chop a stroke or two off their averages if the Rams are going to realize Brown's goal for the team.

"We're going to still try to shoot in the low 150s," he said. "That means a couple 37s, a 38 and a 39, so they're going to have to play better than they did last year."

While the Rams were 15-3 in dual matches last year, they played their last best golf late in the season. Brown is hoping that also could become a trademark of this year's team once the new players get some confidence and varsity experience under their belts.

"If we shoot in the low 150s, we'll be fine," he said. "Our thing hasn't changed. We're still looking to defend our FCIAC and state titles, but we have a different crew."