It would be easy for the Fairfield Ludlowe girls tennis team to play their conference schedule -- certainly among the state's most difficult -- and go along their way.

But the Falcons are neither intimidated nor scared to venture out of the FCIAC.

And good for them.

The Falcons sport one of the state's deepest lineups, if not the deepest, which has helped them accrue nine straight wins and a 16-2 record.

All that is impressive, given the FCIAC's Murderer's Row of opposition. To finish with 16 wins, win the FCIAC East Division -- for the first time ever -- and slay Goliaths like Darien, Staples and New Canaan all add up to a remarkable season.

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"We're lucky our league has the best teams," Ludlowe coach John Reisert said.

But unlike much of the FCIAC's upper echelon, Ludlowe will play more than its 16 conference matches. Reisert added two SWC teams-- Newtown and Joel Barlow-- to the hellacious schedule. Ludlowe proved no worse for the wear, issuing the Nighthawks their first -- and only -- regular-season loss, 4-3, on May 3.

A week later, this past Friday, Ludlowe blitzed Barlow 7-0 for win No. 14.

What, you might ask, does playing nonconference foes do? The FCIAC is already the state's top-tennis conference. What do matches with Newtown and Barlow do, besides fill up an already loaded schedule.

"I like to challenge our team and our individuals," Reisert said.

That's what sports are all about: competition. Excel, and you gain confidence. And given tennis' need for mental toughness, plus the playoffs' enhanced pressure, a player's confidence level can be the difference between breaking down and winning.

Plus, according to Reisert, the girls love it.

"They all seem to know each other," he said. "They enjoy the opportunity to play other people outside of our league in these non-league matches."

The FCIAC Tournament starts Thursday, and Ludlowe's players have the confidence that if they play their best, anything is possible.

"This is the most wide open a state and FCIAC I've ever seen," Reisert siad. "If we play our best tennis, they're both within our grasp. It's pretty exciting to know you're in the mix."

Confident AND talented? Those are two pretty tough elements to stymie.;