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Coach Darcy Appleby picked up the cards off the desk of the judge that was scoring the uneven bars. There were only three.

"That's it?" the judge asked. "That's it," Appleby replied. "Only three."

In years past, the Warde gymnastics team never had to worry about numbers. At the least, there were between eight and 10 gymnasts competing. At the most, there were between 14 and 16.

This year, the Mustangs are making do with four, count `em, four gymnasts.

"We're small but we're mighty," said Appleby with a smile.

For whatever reason, this is the smallest team in Mustangs history but like Appleby said, they're mighty. They go into every meet looking to improve on each routine and prepare for the upcoming FCIAC and CIAC meets. They refuse to let nagging little injuries stop them and their determination continues to draw the admiration of city rival Ludlowe coach Kim Longobucco.

"It's hard ... because we are one program here. We practice together, we compete together, we're one program and it just stinks that we can put the same uniform on on meet day," Longobucco said. "It's (unfair) that other teams can co-op and we can't because we would be one heck of a team if we could. It's all about the numbers, which is fine, but it's hard that they can't compete because they've been a strong team in the past."

In a meet on Monday at the Gymnastics and Cheer Academy, with Shelton and St. Joseph, Warde and Ludlowe also competed against each other. For the longest time, they competed together, as one school but only over the last couple of years have the two programs gone head-to-head.

It's never been a `Warde-Ludlowe' thing, it's a Fairfield gymnastics thing," Appleby said. "When I started coaching it was just Fairfield High. When the schools split my goal was not to have a split, we still continue to practice together, it's only been the last couple of years that we even compete separately, most meets we're together but some meets we're separate but for the most part, the two programs are still together. They've all been together since they were little kids. Most of them have grown up together so it's nice to see them cheering for each other."

And that's just what happened Monday. Ludlowe cheering for Warde. Warde cheering for Ludlowe. Both Fairfield teams cheering for St. Joseph and Shelton. One big gymnastics family.

"We're really close with a lot of the girls on Ludlowe and Shelton because we all do club gymnastics too, so we're all really close and that helps," said Warde senior gymnast Kathleen Piscotta, who competed in the bars (8.70) and the balance beam (6.90).

Senior Sophia Mancini competed in the all-around for Warde, scoring a 32.05, as did Veronica Bennett, scoring a 28.60. Mancini's best mark was an 8.45 in the vault while Bennett posed an 8.60 in the floor exercise as her best mark of the meet.

"It's going well. We can see it in our improvement and in our confidence. Things are definitely betting better," Piscotta said. "Scores aren't really our main concern right now, just doing our best."

"Believing in that you can do it is definitely a big factor because it helps you to get over mental blocks and it makes everything become gradually easier and more comfortable," Mancini said. "You get rid of all the nerves. I hope that we continue to improve and finish the season strong."

Said Appleby: "They're working hard for their individuals to get into the FCIAC's and the States and I give them credit for coming in every day and working hard and try to reach that goal and not really thinking about the team thing this year."

Longobucco has the luxury of having six seniors -- Jordan Feeney, Charlotte Hill, Jocelyn Kane, Kate Palmer, Cate Seymour and Audrey Zullinger -- and on Monday, Feeney, along with juniors Brooke McGoldrick and Nicole Huntsman, competed in the all-around with Huntsman scoring a 34.55, Feeney a 34.05 and McGoldrick a 31.50.

"Our seniors are definitely the depth of our team, I've got six of them and they're definitely the core of our lineup," Longobucco said. "Brooke McGoldrick, who's a junior and Nicole Huntsman, who's a junior, they also help carry our team. Brooke stepped up to do all-around this year which she hadn't, she'd only done one of two events last year and this was a big step for her. And Nicole has improved drastically she is a far, far different gymnast this year, confidence-wise."

Ludlowe finished fourth in the 11-team Popmperaug Invitational at the beginning of the season and since then, has battled right to the wire against the FCIAC's best, falling to Darien 128.85-127.60 and to Trumbull 127.65-127.35.

"We have two dates on the schedule that are important to us, FCIAC's and States," Longobucco said. "Everything else along the way is building toward that. We fine tune after every meet. We videotape, we watch it and we chance things and mess around with requirements to see what we get best and hopefully by February we have a good grasp on what's working well for us.

"We're very evenly matched this season in the FCIAC's. There's going to be four teams that are going to go head-to-head. And it's going to be about who hits that day and doesn't fold under pressure. That's what we've been practicing for. They've seen two tough teams, we've lost by half-a-point twice. Our philosophy is we lose now and not on February 14 (at the FCIAC Championships). They all understand. The seniors really, really want this."