As the Potomac girls varsity volleyballplayers await their own game, they watch their jayvee counterparts and cheer them on. The varsity girls leave only when it is time for their warmup. Then they encourage each other through numerous drills of sets, serves, hits. When they get on the court the younger players cheer them on. For Potomac, victory is a team effort. Victory is also a tradition.

The Panthers have won five consecutive Commonwealth District titles. In three of those years, the last in 1985, they went on to win the Northwestern Regional championship, the highest title in the state for volleyball. However, it was not surprising when they lost their first game this year to Stonewall Jackson, 15-8, 15-9 . Even with a positive attitude and experienced coaching, the team suffered from certain disadvantages. With only two returning players and lack of a regulation practice court, the Panthers have met with some difficulty. But Coach Al Eaton is still satisfied and optimistic, especially with a victory over Osbourn Park last week, 10-15, 15-13, 15-9. He expects that with steady improvement, the Panthers will be a top contender for the district title again.

Just four weeks ago the Panthers were not in winning form. With many players new to the team it was time to learn to work together. With the home court being refinished the Panthers have to practice at a nearby elementary school on an undersized court with asagging net.

But "excuses don't win ballgames," according to Eaton, who guides his team for the second season, with positive attitudes and a soundly developed program, to his advantage. For Eaton the key to rebuilding his team is the development of players' skills and abilities from the freshman team up and the filtering of his tactics and attitudes to other coaches.

The building of the Potomac program started five years ago with Maryanne Parker. As head coach of a sport which hadn't been taken too seriously, she faced the challenge of creating a fundamentally sound team. Parker, who retired from her position and gave it to Eaton in 1985, concentrated on technical accuracy first and winning second. She strived to create a team that could execute basic defensive and offensive moves before introducing more difficult plays. After the preliminary work was done she could work on complicated offenses and promote aggressive defenses. The athlete always came first. Those athletes always gave their best and that was all she asked for.

That philosophy stuck. As jayvee coach under Parker for four years, Eaton concentrated on the basics and developed his players for the future. When he moved up to varsity he helped the players effectively work college-style offenses and learn complicated strategies, all of which he learned from Parker.

Continuity in coaching has also been important. The coaching staff works together, going to clinics, playing freshman against jayvee, and jayvee against varsity, and by commenting on practices and games. But most of all they accent the positive and keep the winning spirit alive.

"If you build a good attitude, you'll have a good program. If you have good coaching, you'll have a good program," said Eaton, who boasts of players coming back after graduation to help with practice or just to watch a game.

"He {Eaton} seeks out individual skills and tries to make the best of them," said Debbie Anderson, a senior who started playing at Potomac last year after moving from Holland. "He knows what to build on."

The volleyball tradition at Potomac is one of the best inspirations for the Panthers. When the players see the winning banners from previous years, they try a little harder. Even with the disadvantages they face this year, the girls never stop trying to improve.

"They realize they have work to do," Eaton explained. "They come early and stay late, because they know what they want."

The players admit that they have to work harder to match the accomplishments of teams past. They are not yet at the high skill level that Eaton has witnessed at Potomac. Although the Panthers defense is very strong, offense needs some work, especially on serving. Kristie Anderson, a senior who is no relation to her teammate and is a key hitter and setter, thinks that flaw may actually work with them this season.

"I'm hoping the scrapiness and drive will help us through the season," Anderson said. "We never give up. We know we have to hustle more."

Xandra Bense, a sophomore hitter/setter in her first varsity year is steadily improving her game and should also prove to be a powerful part of her team.

All seem to agree that this is not a team of star players but one in which individual effort is made for the team's advantage. Everyone works as a whole.

For Eaton, his players are the key to the Panthers' success.

"The athletes always come first. The kids are very important," he said. "The only thing you can ask from them is that they give you 100 percent. And they do."