The emergence of a freshman star along with group of talented upperclassmen has the Darien High girls cross country team’s longtime coach believing his squad can surprise some teams this afternoon.

Coach Steve Norris said his team enters the FCIAC Championship in Waveny Park, New Canaan, with a solid core that is running its best when it matters the most — the postseason. Darien enters the conference championship after finishing 9-6 in its dual meets, good for second in the FCIAC East behind only New Canaan, which finished 10-5.

“We are whole,” said Norris, meaning the team is at full strength, without any injuries, as the FCIAC Championships and Class L championships approach. “We have a lot of quality runners. We’re running better at this point than we were at this point last year. We’re running better times. All the key people are ready to go.”

Darien finished 6-9 in dual meets in 2017, mainly, Norris said, because of close losses to Wilton, Warde and Ludlowe. But the coach said the tables turned this season, with a strong freshman class and improvement from the upperclassmen giving the Wave an edge against those same teams this season.

And that improvement starts with freshman Mairead Clas, who has placed in the top three in every dual meet and won the last two, including last Tuesday at Staples High School where she placed first in 17:31 in the 4,400-meter race.

Norris said he considered Clas a rising star as she entered the season with a solid credentials — including finishing fourth in the state middle school championships as an eighth grader as well as offering some impressive performances during the track season last spring.

“She will be pressed,” said Norris of Clas, who comes in sixth overall, having lost to only five runners in the dual meet season. “Finishing in the top seven would be a great success for her at this stage.”

Norris also expects solid performances from seniors Penn Boucher and Marley Garfield, an All- State 800-meter runner last year. The coach said that both are running better right now then they were last year at this point and feels that that can lead both to landing in the top 30 in the conference championships.

Norris also expects significant contributions from seniors Sophie Hill, a second-team All-FCIAC runner last year, and senior 800-meter runner Amalia Madariaga as well as juniors Bella Swan (who moved to Darien from Florida this past summer) and Noelle Kennedy.

“We have no serious injuries, no illnesses, so we are strong right now,” said Norris, admitting that the FCIAC is dominated by conference powers Trumbull, Ridgefield, Danbury and Greenwich. “We have been training well the past seven days. Even though there are six teams above us right now, we have been running well enough we might be able to pick off a New Canaan or a Staples.”