It would not be a stretch to consider 2011 one of the best season the Fairfield Warde girls soccer team's had.

The Mustangs reached both the FCIAC and state tournament for the fifth straight year and came one win from their first FCIAC championship, going 11-7-2.

But if Warde's going to make that FCIAC and state tournament streak six straight, it is going to have to mature quickly.

The Mustangs graduated 10, seven of whom were starters. Contributor Cate Allen also has switched from soccer to cross country. Only three seniors are left from Warde's FCIAC runner-up squad.

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Hit hardest among Warde's three units is its defense. Junior defender Julia Delaney played in 15 games and will be the lone returner as the Mustangs will have to replace Vanderbilt-bound defender Keegan Thimons.

"We're going to have to re-fill in the back," Warde head coach Tom Cunningham said.

Cunningham loves the experience his squad gained by simply reaching the FCIAC finals, and thinks having all but four of those girls on the field for the Mustangs' 1-0 loss to Greenwich last year is essential.

"They know what it felt like to be there," he said. "Being there will help us this year."

Warde's most depth is at goalkeeper. Junior Kate Brennen was a first-team all-FCIAC selection a year ago, and started every game in 2011, but is being challenged by fellow-junior Carly Strachan.

Fellow all-FCIAC first-teamer Emily Pullen returns at forward and sophomore Jen Maldonado will also be asked to aid Warde's offense.

Emma Patron and Katie Tangney will also strive to bolster the squad's midfield.

With Warde's youth, it could struggle. But Cunningham seems confident in his captain's leadership. He's also hopeful the Mustangs can advance beyond the first round of the state tournament.

"We will look to lean on those three senior captains for their leadership and strong play," Cunningham said. "We want to go beyond the first round. We were one-and-done last year, getting a tough draw against Darien."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens