The 2009-10 season for Fairfield Warde girls basketball was something completely different for Mustangs' head coach Dave Danko.

Warde missed the FCIAC playoffs for the first time since he began coaching at Fairfield High School, and barely reached the Class L state playoffs. Warde finished the year 8-13.

However, for Danko and the Mustangs, the 2010-11 season is one with a renewed reason for optimism. Warde lost three seniors from the squad, including its leading scorer, Alex Aufiero. However, it will benefit from having many of its youngsters grow up a year ago.

"They logged some key minutes, especially in some key positions," Danko said.

Included in that mix is two-year letter winner and junior captain Brielle Lanese. The 6-0 Lanese became one of the Mustangs' go-to players in the post, especially toward the end of the 2010 season, and will likely be Warde's top scorer in 2010.

"We're going to go to her as much as we can in the half court set," he said.

Lanese is also one of only two junior captains that Warde has ever had in Danko's tenure at Warde.

"I think she is ready to step into that leadership role," Danko said.

A pair of seniors will co-captain the squad along with Lanese as Taylor Bargmann and Bree Natale will be asked to lead the team. Bargmann will be running the point, and Natale will step into a

leadership role.

"They have more responsibility," Danko said.

So far, Danko is especially impressed by what he's seen from Bargmann, the three-sport athlete who is signed to play lacrosse at Central Connecticut St.

"She's been our leading scorer in the preseason," Danko said. "She's a good athlete."

Danko expects his team to go as deep as 10 players. This will hold up when junior guard Carly Mappa returns from a leg injury in January.

Warde also expects contributions from guard Kate Kerrigan, who moves from point guard to the shooting guard. Kerrigan and Jerelyn Luther are expected by Warde's coaching staff to get better as they have progressed by playing AAU basketball all year.

Depth is also being emphasized by Danko. He deems it important after watching his team defer to Aufiero and fellow college basketball player Ali Rocchi a season ago.

"Nothing against Alex and Ali, but we had to change our game to fit their needs," Danko said. "I think we can be a more athletic team."

A more team-oriented approach leads to more contributors, in Danko's mind.

"They all can score," he said. "We need to be a team."

Danko knows, though, that the Warde team still must replace the hard-working style of Rocchi and Aufiero.

"We lose toughness," he said. "Someone is going to have to step up and be the emotional leader."

Danko is putting the pressure is on himself to get back to the FCIAC and state playoffs, but he thinks those are goals that his team are capable of reaching.

"I've got to work hard to prepare them for the different challenges every night," Danko said. "There's more pressure on me to put them in the right position."