Field hockey is perhaps the most misunderstood sport in high school athletics. It is the roughest girls sport, with fierce checking and bullet-like shots on goal, yet is also among the most graceful when the passing is crisp and the goalie quick.

Several Northern Virginia schools play the game as well as any other team in the state. McLean lost to Cox of Virginia Beach, 3-0, in the Group AAA championship game last year after finishing second to Langley in the Great Falls District during the regular season.

This fall the two schools should be challenged by T.C. Williams, which graduated only two starters; South Lakes; Mount Vernon, and Lake Braddock as well as traditional powers Jefferson, Fairfax and Hayfield.

Mclean (12-3) is the defending Northern Region champion and should make a spirited title defense with proven players like Eve Barsoum, Cheri Harrington (left inside), Kristen Hoft (center forward), Diane Palmer (forward), Lenore Stribling (forward) and Dolly Carter (right halfback).

The goalie situation remains unsettled, but considering the Highlanders' depth, the position should be adequately filled. If Coach Mary Lou Carroll's team were not strong enough, last year's junior varsity provides plenty of talent to fill in the gaps.

"We lost the state title to Cox last year, but that was the best high school team I've ever seen," said Carroll. "The seniors have made this year's goal is to get back to the state finals and win this year."

Langley (12-1) graduated 11 players, but the Saxons still have more than enough talent and experience to challnge McLean. Margaret Anne Carnwarth (right link), Browyn Biddle (left halfback), Kristen Brand (right inner), Wendy Cobb (right outside) and Kim Swindler (center halfback) return from last year's squad that lost only to Williams, 3-1, on penalty strokes in the regional semifinals.

Amy Ferrence and Monica Trumble are contesting the starting position at goalie, but probably will probably share the position.

"This is a young team and our success this season will depend on what everyone else has," Coach Jean Johnson said.

South Lakes might also be ready to contend as Coach Delores Webb, who built Langley's program before taking over the Seahawks, might finally be ready to reap the harvest of her patient teaching over the past few years.

Although the Great Falls District might have the strongest league, the Northern District probably has the best team.

"I expect us to be very good this year," said Coach Shawn Noel of Williams (11-3). "The kids went to summer camp at the University of Maryland and have been working very hard. We have a strong team returning and it's no secret that they hope to do really well."

Noel has reason to be candid. The Titans return sophomore goalie Marisa Quadra and several seasoned seniors, including Marsha Oden (forward), Jennifer Sidley (halfback), Marina Quadra (halfback), Susie Drustrup (forward), Marie Fiorello (link) and Kristen Minnich (link).

It's a nucleus that compares favorably with any other team in the region. Add the versatility of Julie Shipp, Melissa and Kathy Goldblatt, Casey Barnes and Stephanie Harris and the Titans should improve on last year's finish.

Robinson and Lake Braddock should be ready to challenge. Betty Motes returns to coach the Rams following a year's absence and has a strong nucleus that includes Jill Ellis, Kim Upton, Kris Swafford and Kathy Cotton. Goalies Jeanne Squire and Liz Jensen will lead the defense.

Jefferson, the defending Potomac District champion, should be challenged by Annandale and Fairfax.

Annandale, the runner-up in the district last season, might be the leader by season's end if proven performers like Chris Denfeld (center halfback), Elizabeth Stassings (inside forward), Patti Kibler (right wing) and Jackie Hopkins (left wing) play as expected. Underclassmen Tina Mishall and Kathy Rayburn will share the goalie position.

Two years ago, Fairfax lost to Cox in the state championship game, and Coach Starr Karl might have the right squad to make the playoffs once again. The Rebels split with Annandale and once lost to Jefferson on penalty strokes. Jennifer Daughman (inner), Michelle Von Herbulis (goalie), Sandy Neill (link) and Dana Henry (halfback) will be the key players.

In the Gunston District, Mount Vernon could be the team to watch. Coach Joan Simmons will depend on Kendall Webb, Cho Vu and goalie Ginny Davis and then hope for several more players to develop quickly. The Majors will find their toughest opposition from Hayfield and Groveton. the goalie position.

Two years ago, Fairfax lost to Cox in the state championship game, and Coach Starr Karl might have the right squad to make the playoffs once again. The Rebels split with Annandale and once lost to Jefferson on penalty strokes. Jennifer Daughman (inner), Michelle Von Herbulis (goalie), Sandy Neill (link) and Dana Henry (halfback) will be the key players.

In the Gunston District, Mount Vernon could be the team to watch. Coach Joan Simmons will depend on Kendall Webb, Cho Vu and goalie Ginny Davis and then hope for several more players to develop quickly. The Majors will find their toughest opposition from Hayfield and Groveton.