The Darien boys cross country team is in the enviable position of returning all seven of its top runners, meaning its basically the same unit that went 17-1 last season, finished third in the FCIAC championship and won the Class L title.
The Blue Wave boast a veteran-laden squad with seven seniors -- Marshall Huffman, Brian Davey, Peter Kreuch, Colten Appleby, Alex Rayhill, Ben Olsen and Jack Sparkman. Huffman earned All-State honors in cross country and Davey did the same in track.
But Darien will get its biggest boost from the return of junior Alex Ostberg, who is healthy after suffering a broken fibula in the FCIAC meet that caused him to miss the Class L and State Open events.
Darien coach Tyson Kaczmarek projects Ostberg, who was All-State and All-New England in track, as one of the top five runners in the state.
With the graduation of Staples' Henry Wynne, Ostberg could battle Ridgefield's Trevor Hopper for top FCIAC honors. Last spring, Ostberg ran a personal best time of 15:08 in the 5,000 meters and 9:12 for the 3,200 meters.
"We were decimated by injuries at the end of the season," said Kaczmarek, who enters his 11th season at Darien with a career record of 154-16. "Even though we won Class L, we did not achieve our potential. We certainly don't want that to be the case this year."
"Solid training and adequate injury prevention are key," Kreuch added.
The Blue Wave will be looking to improve their 10th-place showing in last year's open meet.
Huffman led Darien runners with a fifth-place finish in the Class L championship and gives the Blue Wave a formidable one-two punch with Ostberg. Kaczmarek also is looking for continued improvement from Appleby, who was 13th in the Class L meet after a breakout junior year.
"The seniors are our leaders," Kaczmarek said. "We need them to be big for us this year."
"Year in and year out, we want to have a competitive program," Kaczmarek said. "That is always the goal. We certainly think we have one this year."
"Training has been going really well," Davey added. "There is no doubt in my mind that we will be prepared to battle."
While Huffman, Davey, Kreuch, Olsen and Appleby will serve as the captains, the Blue Wave will have an honorary sixth captain in the late Andy Pena, who was a member of the Darien cross country team in 2010 before passing away.
"I am excited to honor a former teammate of mine," Huffman said. "He was a valuable member of our team and deserves to be remembered."
"In the short time I knew Andy, there was always a smile on his face," Kaczmarek said. "We felt this was a perfect way to honor him."
Peter Watson, who graduated from Darien in 2009, has returned to the Blue Wave as a volunteer assistant coach. Watson ran for Kaczmarek before competing in cross country and track at Williams, where he graduated last spring. He was a high school teammate of current Darien assistant Kevin Knapp (2009).