Five falls ago, Erin Gildea took over the New Canaan field hockey program and began to guide the Rams back to the upper echelon of the FCIAC, where she left the program upon graduating as a player.
Under her direction, New Canaan has accomplished a great many of its goals with one painful exception: beating rival Darien.
Last time we saw them, the Rams were bringing the Blue Wave to the brink in the FCIAC tournament semifinals, where they eventually fell 3-1. Since then, both squads have lost a number of key seniors, leading New Canaan to take a heightened inward focus on improving this preseason. However, there are two dates on the 2014 slate it cannot help but look ahead to: games with Darien on Sept. 24 and conference runner-up Wilton on Sept. 10.
Per Gildea, those contests will act as a good barometer for how far the team has progressed and where it needs to focus on next.
“With a new team there’s always going to be growing pains,” she said. “We open with Wilton and they’re always one of the best teams in the state every year, so it’s a huge test early. The key is just that they give each other a chance early to get to know each other, get some experience and then, obviously, we’ll see what the girls have to offer and we’ll take it from there.”
One area of added focus is in goal, as former goalie Emma Ball has gone on to play at Fairfield University. In her stead will be one of two youngsters, who hope to fill the most critical position on the field as well as Ball did. Meanwhile, captains Elizabeth Miller, Isabel Taben and Mackenzie Lewis are doing everything they can to alleviate the pressure on them and any new starters by developing an culture of equality.
“I feel like everyone’s really close on our team,” Taben said. “You probably can’t tell who’s a sophomore, who’s a freshman or who’s a junior. There’s no seniority on our team. Everyone’s equal and everyone has a say.”
Of course, the three senior captains will have the largest say in how the season unfolds both with their play and their leadership. And even after only a couple of games, they know they’ll learn quickly how they’re’ doing by the outcomes of two early games against chief rivals.