2011 was quite literally a banner season for the Darien softball team, as the Blue Wave captured their first FCIAC title. The Darien High School softball field now displays a pair of FCIAC Championship banners, one on the fence and another on the flagpole.

But the 2011 FCIAC crown also brings a bull's-eye in 2012, and Darien sounds as if it's expecting to get the best from its FCIAC counterparts.

"People are kind of gunning for us this year, but it definitely gives us a little more confidence walking out there and knowing that we can do this," Darien captain and starting pitcher Jess DeMaio said. "We're hoping to go out and have an even better season. We can always get a little better on offense, and we definitely have to keep it strong if we want to do well."

Darien must also contend with the loss of starting shortstop Nicole Buch, who graduated last spring. On the plus side, however, is the fact that the majority of the starting lineup remains intact.

"I think the girls understand that they've got a bull's-eye on their back," Darien sixth year coach Nick DeMaio said. "The defense looks like it's picked up right where it left off. Hitting has been inconsistent and it's the thing that's going to take a little more time coming. Nicole Buch left a hole at shortstop, so we're looking at a few girls there."

The starting battery of pitcher Jess DeMaio and catcher Olivia Gozdz is back to attempt to pave the path to Darien defending its FCIAC Championship, as are fellow captains third baseman Courtney Bell and center fielder Kelly Fahey.

According to the captains, some of Darien's biggest strengths include solid team defense as well as exceptional chemistry and familiarity with one another.

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"We have a type of unity this year that is similar to last year, and I think that's really going to help us throughout the season. We're all really supportive of each other," Gozdz said. "We just need to get our feet under us a little more. We're looking forward to some of the best teams like Westhill and New Canaan."

"I think we have very good defense, and it's unique that there's never really been a soft spot for us, so hopefully we can keep that going," Fahey said.

Other key members returning to the Blue Wave lineup include left fielder Emily Moscatello, first baseman Brittany Osborn, right fielder Emma Hamilton, second baseman Emily Blosio and pitcher Kelly Nicoletti.

Darien got a taste of some of its toughest FCIAC competition by taking place in a four-team jamboree against New Canaan, Westhill and Stamford on Saturday, March 24. Several Blue Wave players are especially looking forward to squaring off against some of these teams in the regular season.

"[Winning FCIACs] was history-making for us because we've never gone that far. We know that other teams know we're good," third baseman Bell said. "Westhill is always a big one, New Canaan, Stamford. Basically, [the jamboree] lineup is always competitive for us."

jchik@bcnnew.com