Coming off a 12-win season in which they got all the way to the Class M State Tournament semifinals, Darien High School's boys' volleyball team has high hopes for another strong campaign in 2011. The spikers also have some unfinished business to try to take care of, after losing to perennial powerhouse Staples in the FCIAC title match.

The Blue Wave lost just two players from last year's squad: Graduate Connor Maul and senior Graham Hotchkiss, who joined the track team.

With most of the talent from a year ago back in the fold with more experience and a drive to win, the Wave team members are hoping to again have a chance to dethrone eight-time conference champ Staples and be back in the mix of teams competing for a spot in the championship match in the season's final week.

Darien, coached by Laurie LaRusso, is led by senior captains Calder Billhardt and Austin Cockerill. The other key team members who either start or are expected to see significant playing time are juniors Sam Bryant, Matt Collier, Tommy Nichols, Matt Lee and Ryan Stracuzzi and sophomore Sean Lee.

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"It's our senior year. We definitely want to go as far as possible. We definitely think we have the potential to go all the way," Cockerill said. "We're putting in a lot of time in practice."

"Everybody that started on the team last year wants it as badly as we do," Billhardt added.

The loss to Staples hasn't sat well with Darien, especially given that the 3-1 outcome featured some tightly-contested games.

"That definitely left a bad taste in our mouth. We've all worked really hard," said Billhardt, adding that the players have been playing in offseason open gymnasium games to stay sharp and improve.

Darien will face Staples twice during the regular season and perhaps again in the postseason.

"I'm looking forward to that since we lost last year," Billhardt said.

"We're definitely looking to go in and do as much damage as possible," Cockerill added.

Matt Lee, the setter, is the team's leading assist man, and Billhardt and Cockerill, along with Bryant, are the team's go-to hitters.

Tough teams, in addition to Staples, are Ridgefield and -- when it comes to state tourney time -- last year's Class M runners-up, Masuk, the top seed which eliminated Darien in last year's semis.

The Wave got off to a good start with a 3-0 (15-10, 25-6, 25-7) win over Joel Barlow on April 7. Cockerill had nine kills and five digs, Matt Lee compiled 13 assists and five digs, and Billhardt had four kills and five digs. Bryant also had five digs in the win.

Darien currently sports a record of 3-0. After their win over Joel Barlow, Darien also picked up a pair of 3-0 wins over Daniel Hand and Amity.

Darien got its first taste of FCIAC competition on April 13 on the road against rival Staples (1-1), but the result was not available at press time.

For a full game story, read the April 15 edition of the "Darien News" or visit www. dariennewsonline.com.

Darien and Staples are scheduled to play each other again on May 6 at Darien High School.