With six of their top seven runners gone from last year, it appears at first glance that the Darien girls cross country team may be in a rebuilding mode. But appearances can be deceiving.

While there is talk of the difficult challenges ahead and grooming the next generation of runners, there remains anunmistakable conviction pulsing through the preseason workouts that this season is going to matter. The 2013 squad intends to be a force to be reckoned with in the FCIAC and beyond.

"It's going to be difficult to bring forward the replacements for the six runners we lost from last year, so we're working on the younger kids," long-time coach Steve Norris said.

Among the key losses from last year's squad were Grace Loh, Sarah Colon, Ellen Bauer, Katie Farren and Sophie Long.

Senior captain Alex Ford echoed that sentiment. "We are kind of in a transition year, but we do have a lot of young talent."

The Blue Wave would appear to have strength in numbers, however.

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Over 60 girls have tried out this year, which provides considerable depth in shaping the team.

Norris, who is in his 30th season and who was recently named Darien Sports Person of the Year by the Fairfield County Sports Commission, provides an experienced hand at the helm.

Two of the team's captains, Ford and Grace Evanich, were the eight and nine runners last year, and hope to have breakout seasons.

And the Blue Wave still has its No. 1 runner, junior Anne Johnston. Johnston sparkled in the FCIACs and States last year and is expected to be one of the elite runners in the state this season.

For the past two seasons, Darien has been in the upper echelons, posting a 16-1 record in 2012 and 15-2 in 2011.

While their season records have been impressive, the goal of bringing home a title has proved elusive. In 2012, the Wave placed second in the FCIACs and second in the Class L State Championships, and in 2011 they placed fifth and fourth, respectively.

In 2012, the team also made it to the New England Association High School Cross Country Championship meet, a feat it had not accomplished since 1987.

Key matchups include perennial powerhouses Ridgefield and Wilton, as well as Staples, who the Wave will face in the season opener.

"They will be a test for us right away," Norris said.

"More than other years, we are excited for the first meet to see what we have," said Evanich.

In addition to Johnston, the team will look to its senior captains -- Barbara Bell, Kerry Donovan, Evanich and Ford -- to have strong seasons. The team also expects younger members like juniors Lindsey Holek and Erica Osherow to step up this season.

"We will have to re-create the varsity team, but strong freshmen and sophomores will help us out this season," Bell said.