Their excitement is tempered. Their camaraderie is building. But make no mistake-- these Rams know exactly how primed they are to take the proverbial next step in 2014.

One year removed from an 8-8 season dedicated to player development, the New Canaan girls soccer team enters this fall with a roster of 20 varsity returners, one of the highest figures in all the FCIAC. In turn, the Rams also boast rare balance from front to back, also partly due to a talented freshman class.

In fact, second-year captain Courtney Overacker believes all of these facts put this year's Rams already far ahead of last season's group.

"I think this year we're a lot stronger, especially with the incoming freshmen," she said. "But in all the grades, we look pretty strong."

However Overacker, and her fellow captains -- Kyla Persky, Gabriella Borea and Marina Braccio -- are well aware of recent seasons when New Canaan fell short of expectations. As a result, they've worked both on and off the field to ensure their farewell season ends on a positive note.

Off-season captains' practices and post-practice sprints were installed and balanced with recent events like team sleepovers and trips to Baskin-Robbins. The latter have been set up to continue building a team culture of family because as much as the season will be defined outside by wins and losses, Persky said it's truly about much more.

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"This season is about so much more than the results," Persky said. "And I think we're really working on, particularly this year, integrating the entire program from the youth program all the way up to the high school. And then within the high school, it's from freshman up to the varsity. On the varsity team itself, the underclassmen and the upperclassmen integrate. We're really working on creating that kind of atmosphere."

Last fall, underclassmen such as Sami Stewart and Madison Starr played key roles for the Rams, which will now be elevated thanks to their years of experience. Additionally, juniors Mia Carroll, Caroline Gordon and Abigail Farley among others will be counted on to provide continued stability. Second-year starting goalkeeper Katie Donovan also returns between the pipes, hoping to improve upon her debut season.

But Rams coach Kirk Bamford, who enters his fifth season, knows he will at times need to rely on his seniors with Persky and Overacker up front and Broccia and Borea locking down the backline. When the Rams are able to attack, he says they'll push the pace in efforts to accumulate numerous scoring opportunities.

"We'll try to play the game the right way as much as we can," Bamford said. "We'll try to play a game that's appealing to the eye from a passing and tempo perspective and hopefully create a lot of chances."

New Canaan's first test will arrive on Wednesday, Sept. 10, in the team's season opener against perennial power St. Joseph's. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. from Dunning Stadium. And win or lose, expect these Rams to play as true team.

"One thing that makes our team special is the fact that it's not just one area that's strong," said Braccio, a former All-FCIAC first-teamer. "What will definitely help us most is everyone on the field is capable."