It takes five starters and key bench players for a basketball team, at almost any level, to succeed. But there's no telling where the Darien High School girls' basketball team would be without its senior captain and point guard, Nicole Buch, who provides a solid all-around presence on the court.

"She's a big part of why we win," said Darien Coach Gary Peterson, whose Blue Wave girls carried a 9-5 overall record into a scheduled Feb. 3 game at Stamford.

Buch averages nearly a dozen points, a handful of assists and three-or-so steals per game. What's more, despite standing at 5-foot-3 and giving up several inches to many of her opponents, Buch can be counted on for four or five rebounds per contest.

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"She's my leader. She's my senior captain, so -- without a doubt -- she's the quarterback of the team," Peterson said.

Buch's teammates look to get the ball to her when they feel pressure and she's a good weapon in a category that doesn't show up on the score sheet: Press-breaking. Buch is such a good dribbler that opposing teams sometimes reconsider whether or not to press and trap in the back court.

"They think twice about doing it because Nicole can really handle the ball," Peterson said.

"Not everyone can handle the pressure of playing in a varsity game. When the pressure's on, not everyone wants the ball in her hands," added the coach, noting that Buch, however, is one of those players who wants the ball.

"She plays with a lot of emotion -- sometimes too much emotion -- but I'd rather that than nothing at all," Peterson said. "She might be the only player on the team who doesn't like losing as much as I do. She's very competitive. She takes losses pretty hard."

"On the court, I try and lead by example. I play hard and play for a full 32 minutes," Buch said. "I love to compete -- I love winning."

It's that all-out effort, combined with the fact she may have the team's best jumping ability, which enable Buch to get to so many rebounds. The toughest part about playing is battling through those stretches when shots aren't falling, and staying focused.

Buch has played basketball for a decade -- participating in recreational leagues until fifth grade and then playing travel ball. Among her standout memories is making a three-quarter court shot to beat the halftime buzzer in a game against Norwalk last season.

Buch has had some minor setbacks. She was injured in each of her first two years of high school play, and returned to the court after sustaining a head injury that resulted in 24 stitches her first year and a sprained ankle in her sophomore campaign.

"I just love the game in general," the senior said. "It's always been fun for me. I always wanted to play in high school."

Buch plans to continue to play in college, but only at the intramural or club level. As good as she is on the basketball floor, Buch may be at her best in the shortstop position on the softball field. She received a scholarship to play softball at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. The Blue Wave guard plans to study physical education with aspirations to teach or coach when she's done with school. In the mean time, Buch is focused on her high school studies and leading the basketball team toward the playoffs.