NEW CANAAN -- When this season began, a young New Canaan girls lacrosse team was just trying to piece itself together day by day. After losing all but a handful of starters from last year's Class M state championship team, that wasn't always an easy thing to accomplish.
However, after some of the quickest team-wide improvement made during Kristin Woods' eight-year tenure as coach, New Canaan is right back where it belongs, advancing into the Class M quarterfinals following a 14-2 first-round victory over No. 12 Branford Tuesday afternoon at Dunning Field.
"We've gotten better and better all year," Woods said. "Hopefully we can peak at the right time."
Junior captain Isabel Taben recorded a hat trick while junior Emily DeTour and junior captain Elizabeth Miller added two goals and one assist each for the Rams (13-5), who scored seven unanswered goals to take a 9-1 lead at halftime and cruised the rest of the afternoon.
Sophomore Catherine Granito had a goal and two assists while sophomores Kathleen DeMarino and Sam Stewart notched two goals each. Junior goalie Bailey Pilder earned the victory with seven saves.
New Canaan looked like a well-oiled machine against Branford (8-8-1), finishing with a 26-12 advantage in shots. It was far from the team that almost couldn't get out of its own way early this spring.
"We've come so far since the start of the season," Miller said. "We were playing as individuals early in the year and now we're starting to mesh as a team. We were really young early on, but we're older now and we've learned from our mistakes."
New Canaan is playing so well, the only thing between itself and a second straight Class M title could be rival Wilton. The Warriors have handed New Canaan two of its five losses, including an 11-5 setback in the FCIAC semifinals.
The good news for New Canaan is, the Warriors are on the other side of the bracket. The two teams wouldn't meet until the finals. First the Rams will have to get past No. 4 Hand or No. 13 Mercyt in the quarterfinals Thursday.
"One thing at a time, but I would love to see them again," said Woods, a Wilton native who played lacrosse for the Warriors. "It's always exciting playing them. It's been going back and forth for years. But they're my alma mater, so I really like getting back at them."
New Canaan only won nine of 18 faceoffs, but forced 15 turnovers behind the defense of senior captain Elizabeth Burke, junior Matty Novick, sophomore Amelia Carroll and junior Devin Selvala.