The Darien High School boys basketball team hopes the pendulum swings back in an upward direction this season.
When Charoy Bentley took over as head coach in 2014-15, a young and rebuilding Blue Wave team went from four wins his first season, to seven victories the following year, to a 15-8 record, a No. 2 seed in the FCIAC playoffs, and a second-round appearance in the Class LL state tournament in 2016-17.
Darien took a slight step back last season, but still won 10 games and returned to the state tourney. Fast forward nine months and the 2018-19 edition of the Blue Wave — which opens its season at Stratford High Monday night — hopes to regain that upward spiral and return to the form that made them one of the surprise teams in Fairfield County two seasons ago.
“The program is going in the right direction,” Bentley, beginning his fifth season as head coach and sixth overall with the DHS program, said before practice Monday. “I have a bunch of kids who are really motivated and come to practice ready to work hard, even with our offseason conditioning or in the weight room.
“A lot of kids want to win and they are willing to do whatever it takes.”
Graduation did hit the Blue Wave hard as seven seniors graduated from the team that ended last season with a tough 46-43 opening-round state loss to Daniel Hand. That group included standout guard Justin Jordan, an All-FCIAC third-team selection, and forward Mitch Pryor, who was named to the league’s all-defensive team.
Two more solid frontcourt players, Andrew Darby and Jack Tierney, also received their diplomas in June.
“Yea, it really was a big hit,” Bentley said of the graduation losses. “Justin Jordan was our workhorse. He did it offensively and defensively. Andrew Darby was another workhorse.
“So we did lose a lot, but a lot of that core group from last season is back.”
Indeed, another strong group of seniors will lead the team this season. Will Rolapp and Ryan Darby give Darien what Bentley calls “pretty strong” guard play, while forwards Peter Bredahl and Henry Williams provide a strong presence down low.
“Henry (Williams) goes about 6-4, 6-5, and he has an athletic body who will be more of a wing player,” Bentley said. “Peter (Bredahl), who’s 6-3, 6-4, is one of our big guys who will stretch it out. We should be pretty balanced in our backcourt and frontcourt.
“It’s always good to have senior leadership,” the Darien coach added. “We pushed these guys when they were sophomores and juniors to get them ready for their senior year.”
The history between Bentley and assistant coach Marc Fields and those four senior players goes back even farther.
“We coached them on our fifth-grade travel team and we did pretty good,” Bentley pointed out. “Marc was actually the head coach and I was his assistant.
“So this is kind of a special team for myself and my assistant coach.”
Two more seniors expected to make an impact are Cole Anderson and Alex Quirk.
“Cole is a shooting guard who’s going to help us a lot this year coming off the bench,” Bentley predicted. “Alex will probably play the four or five (power forward or center). He didn’t play last year because he was injured, but should help us this year.
“So even though we lost a lot, I feel we have some players who can fill those shoes. Plus we have a few sophomores and juniors ready to step in and also some freshmen coming in. We have a lot of potential.”
Juniors Jackson Leone and Ben Olsen, and sophomores James Mathus and Brian Kisken are four such underclassmen who should contribute.
“We’ve look pretty good in practice so far,” Bentley, who won an FCIAC championship as a player at Harding in 2006, said. “As long as we stay motivated and stay in tune, I think we’ll be okay. The FCIAC is tough and there are a lot of good teams. Plus there are always teams you don’t know about that end up in the top eight and make the playoffs.
“Hopefully, we’re one of those teams that end up in the top eight.”