Annandale, Lake Braddock, and Lee are the first three schools mentioned as potential region champions in girls basketball. All three teams received byes into the semifinals of district tournament play, which began last night. O'Connell is one of the perennial favorites to win the Catholic Girls Athletic Association title. Below are brief summaries of each team heading into the playoffs. Annandale

With a team that returned four of its top six players from an 18-5 team a year ago and added two transfers, Annandale coach Laura Hagan knew that she had collected some excellent players. So, she has turned her emphasis from talent to teamwork and, after an opening game loss to top-ranked Lake Braddock, the Atoms have run off 20 straight victories and won the Potomac District championship.

Hagan thinks the team chemistry has been the key to the success.

"The kids really get along off the floor, as well as, on the floor," said Hagan. "That is really important this year because we have a new player from the merger (with Jefferson) and another transfer that we've had to incorporate."

Karen Bradshaw, who came to Annandale when Jefferson became a high-tech school, has averaged almost 10 points per game and Salene Green moved to Annandale from Alaska, giving the Atoms added depth to an already well balanced attack.

"We have real good scoring balance, we're quick and we play good defense," Hagan said. "But the fact that we're so balanced is what's most important to me."

Forward Ann Marie Kennedy is the key to the Atoms' offense. The 5-foot-9 senior is averaging 16 points per game despite being the center of most defensive attention and sharing scoring duties with several teammates. It was Kennedy's steal and subsequent 35-foot jumper at the buzzer that beat highly regarded W.T. Woodson, 55-53, in double overtime for Annandale's biggest win of the year.

However, opponents have found that concentrating on Kennedy can leave them vulnerable to the other potent scorers. Asia Berkley and Janine Fronczek are averaging over 10 points per game and Amanda Cromwell directs the offense and anchors the defense.

The Atoms entered the year with high hopes and even higher expectations and though the opening night loss remains the only mark on their record, Hagan feels the defeat taught the Atoms a valuable lesson.

"I think there was extra pressure because everyone expected us to be good," Hagan said. "But {the loss} was probably the best thing that could have happened to us. It showed us that everyone is important and it took a lot of pressure off us about being undefeated." Lake Braddock

Lake Braddock's boys are not the only district-winning basketball team walking the hallways of the Burke school these days. The Braddock girls ended their regular season as the area's top-ranked team with a 20-1 record and the Northern District crown.

Last season the Bruins started an extremely young team, three sophomores and two juniors, but finished with a 17-7 record. However, the season ended in a first-round regional defeat to Langley. Bruins coach Melissa Trowbridge is hoping last year's disappointment helps this year's cause.

"Maturity is the big difference {in this year's team from last year}," said Trowbridge. "They're a little more aware of what needs to be done during the course of a game. And the confidence is up which helps as far as the intangibles."

The Bruins feature a high scoring lineup led by junior forward Laura Teter. And, like their male counterparts, they are the favorite to capture the Northern Region championship next week.

The Bruins' lost to district rival W.T. Woodson, 55-53, on January 8th and have since won 11 straight. The streak includes a rematch victory over the Cavaliers and at the heart of the success is Teter.

A first team all-District selection last season, Teter has been outstanding. In December's Warhawk Classic championship, the 5-foot-9 forward scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the Bruins' 55-43 victory over Lee to clinch the tournament's MVP award. On the season Teter is averaging 19.6 points and, along with senior Emily Rice, controls the boards for the Bruins.

When teams collapse on Teter and Rice (9 points per game) inside, it is usually Karen Jenkins who does the damage from the outside. The 5-11 junior has averaged 11 points per game, mostly coming from the baseline.

"They're packing the zones on us and when she hits the outside shots it opens things up for us," Trowbridge said of Jenkins.

Point guard Collette Cunningham has been solid, particularly recently.

"The past few weeks she's started to put both ends of the floor together for us," said Trowbridge. "She's playing great defense and hitting the outside shots."

Now the Bruins hope they can teach the things they learned last year to someone else as they look forward to the regional tournament. Lee

It's startling to no one that the Lee Lancers are 18-2 and tied with Mount Vernon atop the Gunston District standings. Most people expected the Lancers to excel after last year's 22-7 season. And, it's certainly no surprise that the key to the Lee attack is senior point guard Ashley Hancock. An All-Met selection a year ago, Hancock has been outstanding in her final season.

But Lee coach Ron Simms admits astonishment when discussing his freshman center Zekkie Blanding, who has taken over an inside game that was depleted by graduation.

"I didn't know what to expect. We graduated our three inside people then here comes Zekkie from Key Intermediate School," said Simms with a laugh. "She was the last piece of the puzzle."

Blanding, a 6-2 freshman, has averaged over 13 points per game while leading the team in rebounding and blocked shots. And, she keeps improving.

"She has good offensive instincts and is shooting the highest percentage {from the floor} on the team," said Simms. "She's improved on defense and has worked hard to become a good player on both ends of the court."

Blanding joins Krissy Weisenfels (13 points per game), Beth Mittendorf (9 points) and defensive and rebounding specialist, Holly Hellmuth to give Hancock a strong supporting cast. Beth Park and Angie Akins have given Simms options off the bench and, while the Lancers don't possess tremendous quickness or size, Simms is very happy with his 1988 version of the Lancers.

"They are very smart and disciplined," Simms said. "We just try to take advantage of what we do well."

What the Lancers do well is run and in their fast paced game most of the action revolves around Hancock. The 6-1 point guard handles the ball on almost every possesion and is averaging 20 points per game and leads the team in assists. Already signed to play at North Carolina State next year, she may be the best player in the Northern Region.

The names of Terri Bradley of South Lakes, Laura Teter of Lake Braddock, Wendy Shaltis of W.T. Woodson and Ann Marie Kennedy of Annandale join Hancock's when discussing the area's top players.

"I think Ashley gives you a few more weapons {than the other top players in the area.}," said Simms. "She does so many things that make her teammates better and she gives the defense so many things to be concerned with.

"They are all excellent players. But if I was starting a team I would have to start with Ashley."

And maybe a surprise or two. O'Connell

O'Connell's girls team won 24 of 28 games last year and then graduated nine seniors.

This year, injuries deprived the Knights of three of their top players early in the season.

But despite the setback, O'Connell has won 22 of its first 24 games this season and is ranked 13th by The Washington Post. Knights' Coach Jim Spirodopoulos credits a team concept as the reason for the continued success.

"We feel that the team is the key," said the second-year coach, who teaches at George Mason High School and coaches its girls team in the fall season. "It doesn't matter who gets the glory on this team -- there's no individual superstars. It's a very unselfish team that hits the open man and plays extremely well together."

The injuries began even before the basketball season began. Six-foot senior forward Eileen O'Brien missed the first four games of the season with a calcium deposit on her thigh from the soccer season. Shortly after that, senior Maureen Gallaher broke her leg and has missed every game since. Just when Eileen O'Brien returned, her twin sister Kathy sprained an ankle and missed three weeks. But O'Connell adjusted and the victories continued.

"The team just rallied around each other and continued to work hard," said Spirodopoulos. "We played hard-nosed defense and pushed the ball up and down the floor."

One key adjustment made by Spirodopoulos was bringing 5-8 junior Lisa Kuniyoshi off the bench and into the center spot when Maureen Gallaher went down.

"She's (Kuniyoshi) been a catalyst for us. She's done all the dirty work," said Spirodopoulos. "She doesn't score much, but she rebounds well and defensively always guards the other team's big person. She's extremely tough and very quick inside."

O'Connell's high scorer is 5-10 forward Erin Hollister, who is averaging nearly 15 points per game. "She is a big key for us," said Spirodopoulos. "But a lot of her scoring comes off the fast break and the things she gets are because other people get her the ball at the right time."