Five times, in 2011, the Fairfield Warde girls

volleyball team played a five-set match and four times

the Mustangs were defeated in the all-important deciding set.

Those four matches were the difference between the

Mustangs' reaching the FCIAC tournament or playing a home match in the Class LL tournament and the nine matches Warde ended up winning.

"That was tough to swallow," Warde head coach Matt

Narwold said of losing that many five-set matches.

Narwold's made that a point of emphasis, hoping to finish opponents in three and four-game matches.

"We don't want to lose in five games this year," he said. "And we have a goal that we try not to get to that fifth game when we can."

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Despite losing two powerful middle hitters -- Angie Walker and Kelsey Elmendorf -- plus four other seniors, Narwold's outlook is bright.

"We have some girls who are ready to fill-in some shoes," he said.

But as he copes with Walker and Elmandorf's departures, Narwold's been forced to alter his strategy.

"We're going to be more defense-based," he said.

Multi-year starters Tatiana Fernandes and Leah Walsh will be Warde's captains. Fernandes is recuperating from a back injury, but will serve as the Mustangs' libero.

Seniors, setter Marissa Neamonitis and outside hitter Jocie Thibault, round out the Mustangs experienced players.

Kaitlin McKenna is Warde's tallest player, at 6-0. Narwold also is expecting strong contributions from freshman Clare Burns.

After consecutive first-round, state-tournament exits, Narwold's hopeful this year's squad can make the next step.

"Our team goal is to reach the second round of states," Narwold said. "They know how hard it is to go to a state game and not progress after that ... they've decided to show up when it comes time."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens