What a difference a year makes.

Just one season after winning the FCIAC championship, the Darien High School softball team struggled with consistency in 2018, finishing the regular season at 8-12 and barely qualifying for the state Class LL playoffs, where the Blue Wave were eliminated in the first round.

Compounding things in 2019, Darien head coach Nick DeMaio will be carrying only 14 players on his roster this season without the benefit of a junior varsity team — a victim of low tryout numbers.

With that being said, the Wave have a talented crop of returning players who have the ability to carry what DeMaio characterized as a young, developing team.

“In order for us to make states again and be in the mix for the FCIAC, our returners all need to step and pick up the slack,” DeMaio said. “I think we had a good first week of practice. The freshmen need quite a bit of work but they’ve bought into what we are out there doing. I think we are going to have those moments where really good things happen. Our season is going to come down to making them happen enough that we’re going to be contenders.”

Given the team’s youth and inexperience, DeMaio told his returners they need to be as versatile as possible and ready to master more than one position.

“We’re not going to have the luxury of a really consistent defensive lineup,” DeMaio said. “We’re going to be moving people around all the time. That goes for most of the starters.”

Leading the way for Darien this spring will be senior co-captains Caroline Krueger and Sydney Fagerstrom.

Krueger was Darien’s catcher last season and will be back behind the plate once fully recovered from a leg injury suffered this past fall. Krueger hit .290 last season with four doubles and a triple and caught five would-be base stealers in 2018. She will start the season at first base.

“She leads by example,” DeMaio said. “I’m confident that when the season is over we’re going to look back and say that she had an outstanding year, especially hitting. She’s the backbone of the team and has the mentality of an athlete.”

Fagerstrom earned a starting role in the Darien outfield last season and was a solid bat for the Wave, hitting .323 with five doubles and 10 runs scored. She will mainly see time in centerfield this spring and will also rotate in at second base.

“She had some big hits last season and is a very reliable player,” DeMaio said. “She’s consistent and that’s the special thing about her. After she earned her starting spot I think she started to fall in love with the game. She’s very driven and a good leader as far as helping other younger players.”

Junior Rosalie Pirone had a tremendous 2018 season, hitting .338 with 13 RBIs and 16 runs scored. She will alternate between shortstop and third base for the Wave this spring. Sophomore Madeleine Conte will take over the catching duties while Krueger is on the mend.

The one spot where Darien has some depth is at pitcher.

Grace Karas logged most of the time in the circle for the Blue Wave last season, winning eight games as a freshman with 61 strikeouts in 125 innings pitched. The sophomore also had a team-high two home runs and drove in 10 runs last spring. DeMaio will rotate her in at at first base and the outfield this season when she is not pitching.

Also factoring into DeMaio’s pitching plans is promising freshman Callie Halvorsen. A gifted natural athlete, Halvorsen will play either second or short when Karas is pitching. Fellow freshman Noelle Cooke also figures to see some innings at pitcher should the situation call for it.

Freshman Ella Wadley will start at third base for the Wave. Candidates for the other two outfield spots include freshman Jasmine Shtufaj, Valeria Henao and junior Grace Carlo.

Despite all the challenges ahead of them, DeMaio believes the Wave can be in the hunt — not only for a state playoff berth, but also for an FCIAC slot. In a somewhat top-heavy conference, the final two or three spots are up for grabs. For the Wave to finish in the top eight, a few stars will need to align.

“With a team as small as we are, we have to stay healthy,” DeMaio said. “We just don’t have the depth to replace anyone. I just hope that the younger girls understand what it means to compete. They have to grow up very quickly in order for us to be a competitive team. We have a little depth at pitcher and we have an experienced infield. If we stay healthy and get the outfield up to speed, we will be OK.”

QUOTABLE

“I think we are going to have those moments where really good things happen. Our season is going to come down to making them happen enough that we’re going to be contenders.” — Darien head coach Nick DeMaio