Staples girls volleyball coach Jon Shepro loves the personality of his players. It's a great group, he says, and camaraderie and togetherness are expected to be strengths this fall.

Shepro, however, does expect his players to show their competitive side as well.

"I think I actually have to get a little mean streak in them," he said, alluding to the need for his players to develop an edge that could pave the way for success in challenging matches.

Last year, the Wreckers went 14-4 during the regular season and lost in the FCIAC semifinals and Class LL state quarterfinals. They're hoping to put together another strong season.

"I'm really excited about it. After last season's end I think we're all ready to go really far in FCIACs and states," said senior captain and outside hitter Lauren Mushro. "We all get along really well together. I think that will make us closer and give us strength this year."

The Wreckers graduated a talented group that included four starters from last season. The departures included Frankie Lynch, Cheyenne Haslett, Anna Fiolek and Lindsey Graber, as well as Lily Rappaport and Jen Dimitrief.

Despite having some big holes to fill, Shepro certainly doesn't view this as a time to develop the program for future seasons.

"I don't see this as a rebuilding year. I see this as a year where we have a lot of experience back," Shepro said.

This year's captains are setter Arianna Sherman and outside hitters Amelia Brackett and Mushro. Sherman and Brackett were all-FCIAC honorees as juniors in 2012, while Brackett also took home all-state honors.

Other key players in the lineup include a pair of seniors, middle hitter Knox Schieffelin and defensive specialist Val Kirsch. Junior weakside hitter Elizabeth Knoll is also expected to contribute.

"I think this year we have an extremely good set of seniors and a few underclassmen, so we'll do really well," Brackett said.

The players have worked hard in the offseason, honing skills and staying sharp in club leagues.

"We've improved a lot and I think we'll get a lot of wins," Brackett said.

While the schedule will again include top teams Ridgefield, Fairfield Ludlowe and LL state champion Darien, Staples remains confident that it can overtake its conference rivals.

"I think when you're as close as we are to beating these teams it just takes a little extra work in practice," said Shepro, adding that staying together and working as a team can also pay dividends for his squad.

"I think we'll be able to do really well against those teams," Brackett added.

Shepro expects the offense to be a strong point this fall. He's looking for early-season improvements on defense and in the passing game.

"I don't think it's there yet. You have to be able to pass and we're still working on that," he said.

The Wreckers were working hard on developing their passing game and defensive skills as the preseason unfolded in late August and early September.

"I look forward to coming to practice every single day and can't wait for the games to start," Shepro said.

The Wreckers open the season Sept. 12 at home against Norwalk at 4 p.m.

Andy Hutchison is a freelance writer