The Fairfield Warde girls volleyball's ascent has inched for three years now.

But Mustangs' head coach Matt Narwold, in his fourth year, believes 2013 could be the year his club makes the leap toward the top.

Warde, on the heels of a 12-8 season and its first ever state tournament win, will try to improve upon that. Narwold is convinced he knows how.

"The expectations I have for them are high," Narwold said. "But they want to reach states, and they want to be the first team in Warde volleyball history to qualify for the FCIAC [tournament]. I believe I have the team that can do that this year."

Warde graduated four, including its libero, Tatiana Fernandes, but returns talented, dominant inside presence Kaitlin McKenna. She opens her third year as the Mustangs' middle hitter. Narwold continues to see her progress.

"She was our main offensive weapon last year, and she has continued to improve in the offseason," he said.

Fellow captains will be outside hitter Catie Keegan, and libero Maddie Grella, who returns from missing all of 2012 with a back injury. Narwold has seen leadership potential from each, as well.

"[Keegan] is the voice of the team this year, with her leadership on and off the court," he said. "[Grella] was out all last season, so we are excited to have her back on the courts."

Sophomore outside hitter Clare Burns was highly touted last year and did not disappoint, and the more she improves, the better her odds of attaining stardom this year.

"Clare Burns is only going to be a sophomore but has the potential to earn her name on an all-state banner this year if she continue the work ethic she has shown thus far in her short high school career," Narwold said.

Seniors Kenzie Burns, Tori Gallati, and setter Erika Leppla, each earned playing time in 2012, as did returner Hannah Wolf. Each has looked good during preseason training and scrimmaging. But Narwold knows how far the Mustangs still must go to reach their goal of the FCIAC tournament-- and it starts with defense.

"Most of the spots have been filled nicely," Narwold said, "but we are going to have to come out strong and work incredibly hard to get our defense where it was last year."