Preseason practice began less than two weeks ago for the Darien High boys volleyball team. But veteran head coach Laurie LaRusso already likes what she sees from the 2019 edition of the Blue Wave.

“I have high expectations for this team,” the veteran coach said this week as her team prepared for its season opener Saturday at noon against visiting Newtown. “We were 18-6 last year and we look better this year.”

LaRusso got her first real look at this year’s team in action last Saturday when Darien hosted an eight-team “Play Day.”

“We got a pretty good assessment of our team,” she said. “We know what we need to work on and I’m sure we’ll figure it out as we go.”

Of course, LaRusso knows a thing or two about success on the volleyball court. The 2017 National Coach of the Year in girls volleyball has led the Blue Wave to 23 FCIAC championships and 23 state titles in her 39 years as head coach.

And since starting the DHS boys volleyball program in 2006, LaRusso has won another four FCIAC crowns and three more state championships.

This year’s team has a good chance to add its name to that list. Only two seniors graduated from last year’s squad and one of them, John Parkhurst, suffered a season-ending ankle injury early in the schedule. As a result, captain Jack Sullivan was the only starter who saw significant playing time to depart.

“We have a lot of experience back from last year,” LaRusso noted. “Last season we lost everybody from the year before except Tyler.”

That would be Tyler Herget, the only underclassman starter on the 2017 team that went 26-1 and captured a third straight FCIAC championship as well as the Class L state title.

Herget was as a junior captain last season, as was Piers Roofthooft. The senior duo will serve as captains again this season.

“I’m very fortunate that my captains are very good leaders,” LaRusso pointed out. “All the guys on the team are good guys and work hard. They’re just good kids who come in every day and work hard.”

Besides Herget and Roofthooft, seniors Josh de la Rivera and Nik Tinaj and juniors Jack Roberson and Jack Leone were starters last season.

“They all have a year under their belt now,” LaRusso said.

Sophomore Frank Pirone is another returnee who saw action last season while freshman Luke Bradbury “looks pretty good,” according to LaRusso, and should see action off the bench.

The Darien coach, who believes the key to success is the whole program from top to bottom, also gave a shout out to her assistant coach, Rob Chatterton, as well as her team managers, Taylor Karas and Maria Betancur.

“They’re at every practice charting every ball touch and point,” she said. “We also have some really good parents who are very supportive. They make sure we have everything we need. They’re awesome.”

The Blue Wave should be in the thick of the FCIAC race along with defending conference and Class L state champion Staples and rival Ridgefield. Four of Darien’s six losses last season came against Ridgefield — two in the regular season and the other two in the FCIAC and state tournaments — while Staples and Newtown accounted for the other two losses.

Darien will play at Ridgefield next Friday at 5:30 in the first of two regular-season meetings. They’ll play again April 29 at Darien while two days later the Wave will host Staples.

“We play a lot of good teams,” LaRusso said. “We’re just going to take one match at a time, focus on us, and let our play on the court take care of itself.”

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"I’m very fortunate that my captains are very good leaders. All the guys on the team are good guys and work hard. They’re just good kids who come in everyday and work hard.” — Darien head coach Laurie LaRusso