For years, it was a foregone conclusion that Greenwich High School was going to convincingly swim away with the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open titles. Though the Cardinals enter the new season as once again, the team to beat at each meet, they know the journey to each championship will be tougher than ever.

"Whether or not we can end up with the triple crown (the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open titles) is a big question mark," said Greenwich boys swimming coach Terry Lowe, who is beginning his 42nd year at the helm. "The core of athletes that we return suggests that it is a possibility. But we are not a lock to win any of those championships. We are going to face tough competition from teams like New Canaan, Ridgefield and Fairfield Prep."

New Canaan, which placed second behind GHS at the FCIAC finals the last two years, is one of the teams that are determined to end the Cardinals' reign of supremacy in the league and state. Ridgefield, which placed second at the Class L meet and fifth at the State Open, has the talent to make its mark, as does Westhill/Stamford. Improving teams such as Darien, Staples and Norwalk/McMahon make the FCIAC the most competitive league in the state.

"The competition in our league has really increased," Westhill/Stamford coach Rick Lewis said. "It should be a very interesting season."

Greenwich, which has won two straight State Open and FCIAC championships and 17 consecutive Class LL titles, returns junior standout swimmers Michael Dustin, Tony Martir, Andrew Dillinger and Eric Minowitz. Dustin and Martir will lead the Cardinals in the 100-yard butterfly, and Dillinger may swim the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle. Dustin place fifth in the butterfly at last season's State Open and Dillinger, who may compete in the 200 freestyle, qualified for the Open in the 200 IM and 500 freestyle.

Some of the Cards' other key returning athletes include senior tri-captains Thom Lautenbach (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke) and Tom Sorenson (100, 200 freestyle), senior tri-captain and diver Mark O'Connell and junior divers Connor Brisson and Tyler Oe.

O'Connell has won the FCIAC diving crown two years in a row and Brisson claimed the LL title and placed second at the Open last season.

"Our strongest event is diving," noted Lowe, who guided the Cardinals to an 11-1 finish in the regular season a year ago. "We had three guys in the top 10 last year, which turned out to be very important."

Coached by Jason Paige, New Canaan won the Class M championship last season and finished fourth at the State Open. The Rams, who captured the State Open, FCIAC and Class M titles in the 2006-07 season, should be one of the main contenders for all three championships. One of the Rams' standout swimmers last season, was Christian Higgins, who enjoyed a superb sophomore campaign. Higgins won the Open title in the 100-yard breaststroke and placed second in the 200 individual medley. In August, Higgins won the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2009 Speedo Junior National Championships in a national record time of 1:02.29 in the 15-16 year-old age group. His performance earned him a spot on the USA Junior National Team.

Austin Wolff, a sophomore, placed eighth at the State Open last year in the 100-yard butterfly. John Santoro, also a sophomore, qualified for the Open meet in the 200 individual medley.

Westhill/Stamford enters the 2009-10 season with high expectations. The team should be sparked by the return of Jeff Anderson, Andrew Hendrickson and Igor Sytnyk.

Anderson, a sophomore, was a finalist at the State Open in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM, while Hendrickson placed sixth in the 500 freestyle and was among the top 10 in the 200 freestyle. Sytnyk qualified for the State Open meet in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

"We have a good core group with 10 new guys who should really help our team," Lewis said. "Our league has so many strong teams. Greenwich's divers give them depth, Ridgefield is going to be very strong and New Canaan is very solid."

Also expected to aid Westhill/Stamford are: Ion Cebotaru, Mike Hopkins, Rob Katz (diving), James Ford (100 backstroke), Brian Sachs (100 backstroke) and Gary Carriero (100 backstroke).

Westhill/Stamford's biggest loss to graduation was All-American Ryan Cutter, who is swimming at Harvard University. Cutter is the state champion and school record holder in the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle.

With more depth than it has had in recent years, Darien is hoping to become one of the league's upper tier teams.

"The big thing this year is that we are covered in every event," Darien coach Matt Czplicki said. "We have a huge freshman class and the largest diving class that we have had."

Junior Chris Weihs (100, 200, 500 freestyle), sophomore Tyler Gould (50, 100 freestyle), junior Jake Greene (500 freestyle, 100 breaststroke), senior co-captain Wes Dean (100 breaststroke) and senior co-captain William Plunkett (50 freestyle, 100 backstroke) give the Blue Wave a strong nucleus.

Czplicki also expects senior Sam Jackson (100 butterfly), Byron Callan (500 freestyle) and freshman James Baker to provide depth. Sophomore Tim Murphy leads a diving crew that includes Jake Bowtell, Annie Archibald and Caylee Waters.

Possessing seven seniors, Norwalk/McMahon coach Doug Marchetti believes his team has the experience to surprise its opponents.

"Our goal is to be competitive in each and every meet," Marchetti said. "I am every excited at our prospects. This is the largest senior class we've had in a while."

Seniors Oscar Castillo, who will swim the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, and Dan Faugno-Fusci (100 freestyle, 100 butterfly) are Norwalk's top two swimmers. Also back are seniors Thomas DiGuglielmo (200 IM, 100 breaststroke) and Ryan Touger (100 freestyle, 100 backstroke) and junior freestyler John Ospina.

Senior Andy Rumore and junior Casey Rawson lead the team's diving corps.

Staples returns junior Cory Bacon, who was a finalist in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly at the LL and FCIAC finals.

Junior Zachary Slater, who placed 12th at the State Open, will lead the Wreckers on the diving board. Coach Jeff Schare is also expecting big seasons from senior Trevor Lally (100 breaststroke) and sophomores Joss Abel (200 IM) and Matthew Wisher (100 backstroke, 100 butterfly).

"They were both Class LL finalists as freshman and this year we are looking for them to step up and replace the holes," Schare said.