The Darien girls basketball team will have a new leader courtside for its 2012-13 campaign.

Katie Lauten, who coached the Darien YMCA's girls basketball travel team for five years, will fill the head coaching position and be charged with the task of helping the rapidly improving Darien girls basketball program reach the next level. Lauten takes over for Gary Peterson, who decided to step down after a three-year run with the team.

"Between the positive experiences I've had with the Darien travel teams and the community as a whole, I knew I had to make a move and apply for the job," Lauten said. "Upon actually being offered the job, I was absolutely thrilled and did not hesitate in accepting, nor did I hesitate to get right to work making sure the girls were in summer leagues, conditioning programs and other off-season activities."

Although she is new to this specific coaching gig, Lauten is hardly a new face to the Darien community or Darien High School. In addition to her work as the head coach for the YMCA's travel team, Lauten also served as the high school's freshman girls volleyball coach in 2010 and 2011 and has worked for the Connecticut Chargers, a summer lacrosse program run by Jeff Brameier and Lisa Lindley for boys and girls lacrosse players in grades 5-12.

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In fact, the timing of Lauten's hiring is such that she will be coaching high school student-athletes who she also coached during her time at the Darien YMCA when they were in middle school. Hence, there is already a great deal of familiarity between coach and players.

"My goal is to help all of them reach their highest potential, and their response has shown that they want to make that effort and be as successful as possible. The chemistry among the team is great, so that gives us a strong jumping off point to work from," Lauten said. "The first team I coached (at the YMCA) is now entering their sophomore year, so several of them already know my style and what to expect."

Several of her players are equally excited to once again be playing under Lauten.

"(Lauten) already has encouraged the team to be working on strength and conditioning during the summer, and that is something we are in need of to move forward as a team," Darien senior-to-be Kate Bushell said. "As Katie has said, we are a cohesive bunch, and working (in the) offseason will make us even stronger as a team."

"(Lauten) is serious and will push us hard to make the program better but also knows how to make it fun," Darien junior-to-be Emily Stein said. "She will be a big help for us offensively with new plays. I'm looking forward to her offensive coaching the most because we have the talent to score a lot of points."

Lauten's work in the Darien basketball scene immediately made her a top candidate for the head coaching vacancy, according to Darien Athletic Director Mike Sullivan.

"I knew Katie was a top candidate for the job as soon as I met her. Her knowledge and passion for the sport was quickly evident," Sullivan said. "Her work with the (Darien) YMCA's travel programs as well as her experience as a basketball coach at Staples and New Canaan were considered favorably by the hiring committee."

Lauten's coaching experience was not limited exclusively to Darien, as she also logged time as New Canaan's junior varsity basketball coach and worked under Staples basketball coach Ed Huydic.

"I've had extremely positive experiences everywhere I've been previously, having learned a lot from the head coaches I've worked for, such as Ed Huydic and (New Canaan basketball coach) Kim Palmer," Lauten said. "It just felt right to end up at Darien High School as the head varsity basketball coach."

Darien has qualified for both the FCIAC and Class L state tournaments in each of the last two seasons, but it has thus far been unable to capture an elusive postseason win in that timeframe. Lauten sounds intent on helping Darien improve from a fringe playoff team into a bona fide FCIAC contender.

"I'm happy with the success and progress they've shown over the past few seasons, and I plan to build on this momentum and establish Darien as one of the top girls teams in the FCIAC consistently every year," Lauten said. "That's why I'm instilling the mentality now that we have to put in the work during the offseason as well as the winter. With strong numbers at the summer league games and conditioning every week as a team, the girls are already showing they are willing to make that commitment, and that's a great start."