With only three players lost to graduation from the previous season, the Darien boys tennis team returns a wealth of familiar faces in 2012, as a total of eight players are back to help the Blue Wave build upon last season's 8-8 mark.

But is Darien ready to compete with the FCIAC Elite? Fifth year head coach Tom Stepkoski seems to think so.

"We're looking good. The first couple days were a little shaky but the team is already challenging themselves and they're picking it up," Stepkoski said. "We're going to have to be playing our best tennis early in the season."

While overturn at the high school level is inevitable regardless of the sports, Darien seems to feel good about the players it has coming back for 2012.

"We're looking pretty good. We didn't lose a lot of players so we're looking strong," said Dominic Hansford, one half of Darien's top doubles team. "We want to make FCIACs, do well in states and hopefully beat some of the top teams like Greenwich and Wilton."

Although the lineup isn't set in stone, Stepkoski is going with the following lineup to start the season: Ryo Usami at No. 1 singles, Alex Swords at No. 2, Cal Kevorkian at No. 3, Briton Dailey at No. 4 and Charlie Khachian at No. 5.

Darien is going with the tandem of Dominic Hansford and Jeff Sload at the top doubles spot and D.J. Brown and William McCoy at second doubles.

More Information

Fact box

"It's always one match at a time, but for this year we want to improve on the 8-8 and maybe go 10-6 or maybe even 11-5," Stepkoski said. "Of course we want to make FCIACs and I think we will make states."

Darien suffered a season-opening 7-0 defeat at the hands of Fairfield Warde, but it rebounded to move to 1-1 with a 5-2 win at home over Wilton.

"I think the strongest part of this team is the depth we have. I think our bottom three, four and five guys could play one or two if they needed to. That's why I think we'll succeed this year compared to last year," Usami said. "We're all good friends and the new kids are fitting in very well. We always support each other."

The season's biggest tests will come in the form of a home match against New Canaan on April 23, and a pair of road contests against Staples and Greenwich on May 8 and May 14, respectively.

"Some of the biggest matches we're looking forward to are Warde [a 7-0 loss] and also against Wilton."

jchik@bcnnew.com