Night tennis may be just a fad, but good high school girls tennis always is in fashion in northern Virginia.

The heat that has been forcing local schools to close early has resulted in teams practicing in the evening. The mercury readings also postponed the Wakefield Invitational last week after one round.

But when the weather relents, the talent and strong competition should surface.

Lake Braddock should be exceptionally strong. Five of the top six players from last year return to a team that lost only four matches (two each to W.T. Woodson, the Northern District champion and eventual state runner-up, and West Springfield, district runner-up) and boasted the region's second-place doubles team of Jennifer Brandt and Laura Williamson.

And Langley and Lee are experienced and talented.

Four of Lee's top six players return to a team that won the Gunston District. Among them are Kelly Ayers, and sisters Terri and Dina Esterowitz.

Great Falls District champion Langley also returns four top players, most notably senior Julie Shenk, winner of the district singles title. Freshman Allegra Milholland should also help considerably.

Brandt, who plays No. 1 singles for Lake Braddock, is a leading contender for the region title. She was ranked third in the Middle Atlantic Tennis Association's 16-and-under listings and earned a national junior ranking. Freshman Kerry Heavey, junior Lynn Yankowski and sophomore Melania Ford should also figure heavily in Lake Braddock's success.

A stronger training program is expected to help the Bruins. Four of this year's top six players played extensively in the MATA summer tournaments. And, as Lake Braddock Coach Laraine Mittleman put it, "I run their tails off. We do what I call cardiovascular training. We don't concentrate just on tennis. If these kids get beat, it's not because they are tired."

Those cardiovascular workouts are sometimes held at 6 a.m.

"It really has worked out great," said Mittleman of the early morning sessions. "We feel more like a team. Tennis can get to be such an individual sport. This just brings us together because, believe it or not, its fun. Watching the sunrise can do magical things."

W.T. Woodson, last year's state runner-up (10-0 in the Northern District), is strong, as usual, but no shoo-in for the Northern Region title.

Isabelle Pauley, winner of the state title her junior and senior years, is gone. Pauley also will be missed because she teamed with her sister, Mary Margaret, to win the region doubles championship.

Mary Margaret Pauley, twins Lori and Vicki Maddox and Lara George, are all juniors who have played in the top six positions since their freshman year.

Anja Allison, a sophomore transfer from Huntington Beach, Calif., has a good all-court game.

"When any player that good graduates, it's hard to fill in," said Coach Barbara Rogers, in her 20th year at Woodson. "But the fact that the other girls on the team have so much experience makes it a lot easier."

West Springfield is rebuilding, but an influx of talented freshmen and the leadership of a couple of veterans may make the process easier for first-year Coach Frank Pilley.

Five players from last year's district runner-up graduated, but No. 1 singles player Jennie Schultz is back, and Denise McCarthy, currently at No. 3, is another good all-around player. At No. 2 is freshman Mary Bartley.

"Many people feel it's a rebuilding year," said Pilley. "My expectations are that we should do very well in the Northern District tournament. Our goals remain the same -- that is, to excel and play winning tennis."

To do so, a number of freshmen need to develop by midseason. Among them are Ferrell Page, Michelle Lewis and Amy Marchetti. Pilley is also counting on Elisa Obbecke and Kerrie Mello to improve.