Celebrating the completion of a single set is not often how you'll find a two-time, reigning state champion team concluding its first practice.
Perhaps even less frequent is finding said championship squad practicing with a roster nearly 50 percent comprised of newcomers due to graduation.
Yet such was the scene Monday at the Darien YMCA where Blue Wave girls swimming and diving opened its 2014 campaign mere months after waving goodbye to 13 seniors. Darien coach Marj Trifone, who enters her 16th year heading the program, has long held chemistry as a key element for success with all of her teams. And camaraderie never will be more paramount for the Blue Wave than this season, when it attempts to "three-peat" as FCIAC, Class L and State Open champions with a much younger, more inexperienced group.
"It's going to be an interesting year because although we'll be the hunted, since we won the triple crown two years in a row, teams will think that we're not going to be that good," Trifone said. "And I think we're going to be strong. I think we'll be surprisingly strong, and the freshmen will come along and pick up a lot of slack. The question will be when we get to those championship meets, will we be able to hold it together with that lack of experience?"
Wave captains Maddie Burke, Courtney Ferreira, Mackenzie Coughlin and Maggie Haddad will be charged with keeping their team together in the early stages of the fall, when returning sophomores and incoming freshmen must get up to speed on how to compete in a stacked FCIAC. None of Darien's immediate, perennial conference competition, Greenwich, New Canaan nor Wilton, lost as much to caps and gowns last spring and will all be ready to snap the Wave's title winning streak. Fortunately, Darien's current senior leaders can benefit from lessons learned under past captains, who claimed multiple championship through considerable toughness and dedication.
However, their focus in 2014 will remain solely on the present, only glimpsing back to the past for motivation when the Wave's lofty expectations may at times seem out of reach.
"It's about this year and trying not to talk about last year's accomplishments, which they certainly all know about," Trifone said. "I'm hoping I get everyone ready for the championships, but we're not necessarily going to be ready for a meet like Ridgefield or somewhere. Last year was easy because it was 13 seniors and 10 juniors. This year it's so much harder to get them ready to go because there's a lot of learning to take place."
Beginning with a movie night Friday and the program's annual training trip to Cape May, N.J., over Labor Day weekend, Burke and company will continue to work at growing the Wave's close-knit nature over the course of the season. In the water, she will be setting a high level of example in the 100-meter butterfly. But whether Burke's in the pool or outside of it, leading through action is of the utmost personal importance.
"It's all about knowing what to do so as seniors we can teach them by example," she said.
Meanwhile, fellow captains Ferreira and Haddad have been praised by Trifone for how they looked coming out of preseason workouts. The head coach also shared she hopes other seniors, such as Maddy Hauben and Jesse Stewart, as well as juniors Becca Maroney, Maggie Orem and Belle Stobie, step up into featured roles. Darien must replace all four of its breaststroke swimmers from 2013, three of its top 500-meter freestyle competitors and two swimmers from nearly every other event.
Its strongest races project to be the medley relay, 200- and 400-meter freestyle, where there currently rests only one open spot in each starting lineup.
"I think losing 13 seniors is never an easy task for any team. But with the youngsters coming up, we're ready to train hard, work hard and continue our passion and dedication," Coughlin said. "We know it's going to take a lot of work, but we're willing to take the challenge and push through it."
On the diving board, Kayla Pech and junior Jenny Schrenker are the lone returnees. Additionally, the Blue Wave welcomes two freshmen and one new sophomore diver, all of whom will be relied upon to produce meet points. Fellow underclassmen Phoebe Slaughter, Isabelle Blaze and Sheena Zhou also figure to contribute, though Trifone lumps the latter two in with the rest of her freshman class, which she hasn't spent much time with yet.
Nevertheless, this year's Darien team fully expects history to repeat itself come late October and November, even if it means taking a slightly bumpier road along the way.
"I have high expectations, as I always do, and I think we've started out on the right note," Trifone said. "They get the drill, the freshmen have worked right into it and I'm optimistic. We have the potential to be a deep team. We're just going to have to see if we're deep enough."