The pack seems to never slip when it comes to golf in the FCIAC. Even when the county's best player the past couple seasons -- Greenwich's David Pastore -- departs for the University of Virginia the field only gets stronger.

Such is life for the Darien High boys golf team, which will attempt to blend a group of established varsity players with some new blood with the hopes of improving on its seventh place FCIAC Tournament finish from a year ago.

"I'm really looking forward to this year with the mix of experienced kids returning with younger kids," said head coach Tom O'Donnell, entering his 22nd season. "We'll end up with a team that might not have the most talent, but we'll end up with a team that's deep and competitive. I think we can surprise people at the end of the year."

As is always the case in golf, Darien's top competition will be itself -- the players' ability to play consistently. However, the FCIAC poses more than its share of hurdles to overcome.

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Staples, the defending FCIAC Tournament champions, is the prohibitive favorite to repeat. The Wreckers not only return four of five golfers, but fill in their vacant roster spot by welcoming back its top player Andrew Gai, following a one year hiatus. Gai, a senior, returns after spending 2010 playing year-round on the Junior circuit.

Rival New Canaan returns No. 1 player Brian Tohir, the returning player with the lowest scoring average in 2010, and C.J. Swift, giving the Rams a shot a the top spot. Ridgefield, like Staples, brings back four varsity golfers from a 15-3 campaign, putting the Tigers in position to make a run at the league title.

However, the uphill battle the FCIAC presents still has to play itself out on the golf course.

"This year, the undisputed team on paper is Staples," O'Donnell said. "Seasons don't always go as they are supposed to on paper."

Darien senior tri-captain Andrew Winter will spearhead the Blue Wave's course through the FCIAC gauntlet. Winter, a second year captain, averaged a 41 in 2010 -- second on the team to graduated Sean Fahey's 40 average.

"There's no doubt that the guy with the best pedigree is Andrew Winter," O'Donnell said. "He's been the guy with the most experience and shot the lowest scores."

Winter, who placed seventh in the FCIAC tournament in 2009, is O'Donnell's most consistent golfer mainly due to his ability to putt.

"Even when he's not hitting the ball great he's able to score consistently because of his putting," O'Donnell said.

Fellow senior tri-captains Brian Curry and Chris Carmody will fill out the Nos. 2 and 3 spots behind Winter. The Blue Wave will need both players to regularly produce to help push Darien into the FCIAC's upper echelon.

"Both of them know what it's all about. They've had moments when they've shown they can play very well," O'Donnell said. "This year what they're striving for is more consistent play."

Curry, who averaged a 43 in seven varsity matches last year, has proved his ability to hit the ball. Improving his work on the greens will vastly steady his game.

"Brian Curry has significantly improved his ball striking capability. If he can become a more consistent putting he can do some great things for us," O'Donnell said.

Carmody can hit it a ton, but it's the mental part of his game that he must focus on in his senior season.

"Chris Carmody can be an impressive ball striker, but he's working on his course management," O'Donnell said.

Junior James Burgoyne is the top candidate for the No. 4 spot. He averaged a 43 in nine varsity matches in 2010. Burgoyne will be pushed by a group of rising junior varsity players, most notably junior Kevin Steinthal and sophomore Kieren Suri.

"[Kieren and Kevin] are two of the kids that have shown the most promise in practice," O'Donnell said.

A group of five freshmen will push the rest of the roster for playing time on the varsity level. With all the new faces vying for a roster spot, O'Donnell believes his lineup will not be established until the second half of the season.

Darien opened the season against Westhill at E.G. Brennan Golf Course in Stamford on April 13.