The three girls high school lacrosse teams in town each boast a crew of returning players but only two of them -- the more established Ludlowe and Warde -- have legitimate designs on returning to the state playoffs.
Notre Dame-Fairfield, which will again incorporate newcomers to the sport into its lineup, has a combined 10 wins in the last 7 years and is aiming to be more competitive this spring.
The Mustangs wrapped up 2013 with a 9-9 record after losing to No. 5 Avon 16-6 in the first round of the CIAC Class M state tournament. Warde, which went 5-7 in the conference, qualified for the FCIAC quarterfinals and lost to Darien, which went on to win Class L, by 22-5.
Coach Tom Davis is in his sixth year with the Mustangs. He is replacing six seniors who graduated in June, only four of whom were starters, and is looking for his team to compile a better record than a year ago. Defender Gabby Howard, a three-year starter, and attacker Caroline Lambert are the captains. Lambert had 14 goals and three assists last year.
The offense will be boosted by contributions from the midfield. Sarah Reilly supplied 23 goals with 12 assists a year ago, and is already commited to playing in college at Assumption. Junior Meredith Nerreau pumped in 45 goals and had seven assists in 2013 from midfield. She was named second-team All-State in Class M and received honorable mention all-conference recognition last year.
"The keys to success are to play a solid defense and to compete with every team," Davis said. He is impressed with the Mustangs' defensive quickness and smarts and believes they feature outsanding scorers.
Warde opens April 9 at Danbury at 4 p.m. Ludlowe hosts the Mustangs on April 11 at 7 p.m.
Falcons' second-year coach Heather Lewsey is confronted with replacing five senior starters to improve upon 2013 when Ludlowe went 8-8-1 and lost in the first round of the Class L tournament to eventual champion Darien 21-2. The Falcons, seeded 15th, had defeated No. 18 Trumbull 13-9 in a qualifying-round game.
Lewsey is focusing on "incorporating many new players into the starting lineup after a strong graduating class," Lewsey said.
Seniors Ali Gorab and Ellie Palazzo, the captains, will called upon to supply leadership to the first-time starters. Gorab, who plays attack and midfield, was the Falcons' leading scorer a year ago. She earned honorable mention all-conference last year. Palazzo plays the same positions.
Senior midfielder Bryce McClure contributed heavily to the offense in 2013. She was named second-team All-FCIAC. Senior Sophie Butcher will starter on attack or midfield. Senior Brittany Rosenfeld will start on attack, and junior Miranda Rosenfeld will start in the midfield. Lewsey is looking for more of an impact by sophomore midfielder Regan Steed, and goalie Sarah Chapdelaine, a senior, has been strong in the preseason.
Lewsey is counting on team unity as being a strength this season. Opening Day is April 9 at home against Greenwich at 6 p.m.
Coach Kerri Rowland is optimistic about the Lancers as she begins her third year with the team, though they are coming off a pair of 2-14 seasons. The key to reaching three wins and beyond, which has not been achieved by Notre Dame in the past seven years, will be improving the defense, Rowland said.
Based on how many players are returning with experience, that goal might be possible. The Lancers graduated three seniors in June but only two starters. The captains are Brianna Foster, senior midfielder Lauren Berard and Emily Morris.
After just one practice, Rowland saw that freshman Delany O'Keefe would be a starter on defense, though she is new to the sport. Sophomore Alicia Berard was freshman starter last year on defense along with two seniors. Senior Dymond LeRoy returns in goal but faces competition from Devin Dowling and Bayley McKeon.
Prospects on attack are encouraging with freshman Emily Rowland, junior Morgan Sweeny, who is new to lacrosse, and junior Tekarah Coward, who was the Lancers' leading scorer last year with 21 goals. Lauren Berard should help anchor the midfield, after leading the team in assists a year agol with 11, along with sophomore Ally D'Aurio, who has speed and the range to be effective all over the field.
"Our defense has to not just make a play, but transition the ball to our offense, and our offense must be able to pass, catch, shoot and score," Rowland said. "We have several beginning lacrosse players, so I spend most of our practices working on four basic skills: running, throwing, catching and shooting. This season is all about continuing our growth."
The Lancers' season opener is April 9 at 4 p.m. against New Fairfield at home.