It's unlikely to come up in a game of Trivial Pursuit, but should anyone ask, Madison High School is favored to win the Virginia AAA Northern Region softball title this season.
When the season began last week, Coach Pat Dean had to be the envy of regional coaches. She has six starters back from last year's team that finished 23-0 and won the Great Falls District, Northern Region and Virginia State titles. The most important veteran is senior pitcher Kathy Matthew.
"She's consistently in the strike zone, but she operates so well under pressure when she gets into trouble," said Jim Mulhern, coach of Great Falls runner-up Washington-Lee. "She throws very hard, and that is intimidating to batters. She is mentally overpowering."
In the regular season, she had a 0.58 earned run average. Then, in the playoffs, she was just as overpowering. Washington-Lee's two first-inning runs were all she gave up in the district final that Madison won, 3-2. She was even better in the state championship game, shutting out Lee-Davis of Richmond (21-3) for 13 innings in earning a 1-0 victory.
She threw 63 pitches before an error put the first Confederate runner on in the seventh inning. Another error put runners on first and second, but the next two batters grounded out. Matthew kept her no-hitter intact until the 11th inning and finished with a two-hitter.
But Madison's pitcher is also a talented center fielder. When she plays in the field, Hilary Smith pitches.
Kelly Reilly (.448), Sharon Polsgrove (.365) and Matthew (.313) are expected to provide most of the offense this year. Niki Holloway, Tracy Driscoll, Susie Roche and Beth Gratz will help.
"Madison has the advantage of a strong youth program in Vienna and their experience allows them to stay way ahead of everyone else," McLean Coach Mary Lou Carroll said. "It's hard to compete when you're starting from scratch in high school."
Madison won the regional title in 1979 and 1980, but since then, West Springfield, Fairfax and W.T. Woodson have also won.
Pitching is paramount to softball success and Madison doesn't own a monopoly. Sabrina Moore of Robinson, Amy Orsini of West Springfield and Sharon Graham of Wakefield are also seniors who can win often. Tina Baughman of Chantilly, Tina Marrs of Mount Vernon, Valerie Cook of Jefferson, Debbie Brown of Oakton and Kim Mills of Falls Church are all keys to their team's title hopes.
West Springfield should challenge Madison for the regional title, along with Northern District rival Robinson and Gunston champion Mount Vernon. Some of the best teams in the region will get an early look at each other April 11 and 12 in the Northern Virginia Invitational tournament sponsored by West Springfield. The tournament winner has gone on to win the regional the last three seasons.
Chantilly and Fairfax from the Potomac District, Edison from the Gunston and Lake Braddock from the Northern round out the field.
West Springfield went 22-1 as 1983 state champions, but had only three starters back last year. The Spartans finished 13-6 but now Coach Rob Benton has talent and experience.
"With basically a new team, we were runner-up in the Northern District," said Benton. "The majority is back, so we hope to do well, but Robinson has everyone back."
Two seniors, shortstop Laura Hevener and third baseman Emilie McDonald, are solid defensively on the Spartans' left side. McDonald (.395), an all-region performer last year, and Hevener (.420), who was all-district, are proven hitters. All-region center fielder Jill Barry also returns.
Robinson returns four all-district players from a 14-3 team. Behind Moore, regular first baseman Stacey Geis and shortstop Leslie Cramer will see time on the mound.
At Oakton, back are Chris Pheeny (center field) and Kathy Mizer (second base). Adding power to the lineup is junior Jill Bartley, and freshman catcher Michelle Rupp should help. Washington-Lee, which had not done well in the past, finished 16-3 last season, including 6-1 in the Great Falls District. The Generals should repeat.
"I think all of a sudden, we developed a lot of confidence in ourselves," said Mulhern, whose team finished 6-8 in 1983.
McLean's season, as well as those of other teams in the district, was shortened by four games in 1984 because of rain, and very few players are back. Carroll will rebuild around seniors Mary Hannam and Sandy Adair and juniors Helen Williams and Kirsten Hydes.
The Potomac District, which sent Wakefield (12-0, 14-3) and Chantilly (8-4, 10-6) to the regionals last year, will stage a May 17-22 tournament this year to decide its champion.
Chantilly will need excellent performances from Baughman on the mound and at the plate; she hit .400 last year.
"Last year, Tina was our leadoff batter and reached base in 15 of 18 games," Coach Dennis Randolph said.
At Fairfax, Dana Henry is versatile and sophomore catcher Adrianne Coleman makes Coach Debbie Reid optimistic.
Candy Cook (first base) and Aliene Presley (shortstop) are senior standouts at Jefferson; Mills (infield, pitcher) and Dea Merchant (left field) have played four years at Falls Church; and a strong junior varsity from last year is encouraging to first-year Annandale Coach Laura Hagan, who returns pitchers Barbara Privett, Laura Becker and Susan Reeves.
New Coach Jack Hiatt hopes Mount Vernon (14-1, 16-2) can repeat in the Gunston with Dawn Ames (first base), Maile Harrington (second base) and Kris Fields (catcher) returning.
Marcy Theibert (.432), Wendy Owens (.389) and Shannon Soriano (.362) at Edison and Heather Petrie and Michele Moore at Hayfield are hitters who can make the district competitive.
In the Commonwealth District, Potomac appears to be the leading contender with Beth Caddigan (.468), Beth Haizlip (.380) and Tracy McGinness (.318).