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Field hockey has swiftly gotten as intimidating as the volleyball team

The Darien varsity field hockey team has fast become the premier program in both Fairfield County and the state. The Blue Wave has staked its claim to both the FCIAC and Class M state titles for three consecutive years.

Darien has its sights set on No. 4, as a team that returns seven starters from last year's championship runs sees the bulls-eye on its back grow even larger.

"They seem to be hungry. They're still high school players that have room to grow," head coach Mo Minicus said. "They have to understand and be able to handle that every game is a big game, because every team is out to get us."

Darien is loaded with experience heading into 2010, with 13 seniors on the roster. Minicus had room for just five new players on varsity, only one of which is a freshman, Hollis Perticone. Returning such a large group of seniors has upped the expectations for the Blue Wave within the locker room.

"We have such a strong senior class. Our expectations this year, we just want to take it all the way," senior co-captain Sam Johnston said.

The senior class and returning players also bring with them a great sense of camaraderie, which lends itself to better chemistry on the field -- something Darien's newcomers have been quick to pick up.

"We have a lot of experience and even those that aren't have done a great job molding to the team," senior co-captain Sophie Watters said.

While the camaraderie creates a great atmosphere around the team, it leaves Minicus with the task of keeping her players minds on practicing and improving.

"They're a very close team. They have a lot of fun together," Minicus said, adding her biggest challenge is "to allow the team to have fun, but keep them focused -- to learn the balance between hard work and fun."

The Blue Wave lost five girls from last year's 13-0 dual-title team -- Taylor Wells, Alex Bair and Ella Heck on defense, attacker Anna Heck and goalie Aimee Rich, who was the heart and soul of the team.

The biggest change for the Blue Wave comes in goal, where Perrin Brown has the task of replacing Rich, a four-year starter.

"There's definitely big shoes to fill," Minicus said. "She certainly has the practice against out shots in practice. You hope the team can also realize that it's new for Perrin and step up."

Brown will be backed up by Claire Dickson, who has put her best foot forward in preseason practices, making herself a viable option for Minicus.

"(Perrin's) our go-to goalie right now, but Claire is a pleasant surprise for us. She's doing a great job," Minicus said.

Darien is "returning strength in the midfield," according to Minicus, with the return of Maddie Gill, Alex Iqubal and Courtney Wynne. Those three will complement senior co-captain Ellie Riegel in midfield.

Sophie Doering, a senior, started every game at forward in 2009. This year, however, Doering will help solidify Darien's defense.

Kate Morant and Caroline Kapustynski are both vying for playing time at either defense or midfield. Mimmie Morgan and Galen Rohn will be factors on defense, according to the coach, who said they "will be a solid contributor."

Darien opened the season against Stamford on Tuesday, before press time. Monday marks the start of a three game home stand against Ridgefield (Sept. 20), Fairfield Warde (Sept. 23) and Brien McMahon (Sept. 27), following which Darien is on the road for eight of its final 10 games.

The schedule toughens with a stretch of four games in eight days when the Blue Wave plays Wilton, Stamford (for a second time) and New Cannan on the road and Greenwich at home from Oct. 14 to 22.

"Wilton, New Canaan, those are always big rivals," Minicus said. "Field hockey in the FCIAC is definitely up-and-coming. You can't really take one team for granted. These girls have too much to lose."