Longtime Hylton Coach Al Eaton finds it hard to remember a Cardinal District volleyball season that came down the homestretch with so many teams in the running for the regular season title. Thus a postseason of equal drama, set to begin tomorrow, should not be hard to imagine.

Gar-Field emerged from the final two weeks of the season--which began with the Indians, Hylton, Osbourn Park and Woodbridge tied for first place in the district--as the regular season champion.

Gar-Field, which split the season series with Hylton and Woodbridge, defeated Osbourn Park on Tuesday for the second time, putting the Indians in a tie for first with Hylton--which defeated Woodbridge the same evening--with one match remaining. Hylton then lost on Wednesday to Osbourn Park, and Gar-Field knocked off Stonewall Jackson in three games on Thursday, clinching the regular season title for the Indians (15-5, 10-2 in theCardinal District). The title automatically qualifies the Indians for the Northwestern Region tournament. It also gives them a first-round bye in the Cardinal District tournament.

"It was a very tough season," said Sue Shelton, Gar-Field's first-year coach. "I think the tournament is up for grabs. Everyone has been playing well and everyone has been strong. It comes down to the team playing well this week."

Tomorrow, No. 2 seed Osbourn Park hosts Stonewall Jackson, No. 3 seed Hylton hosts Osbourn and Potomac plays at No. 4 seed Woodbridge. All matches begin at 6:30 p.m.

Osbourn Park (13-3, 9-3) earned the second seed because it defeated Hylton (11-3, 9-3) twice in the regular season. Woodbridge finished the season 10-4, 8-4.

The tournament semifinals will be held on Tuesday at the higher seed's gym. Gar-Field will play the winner of the Woodbridge-Potomac match, and the winners of the other two first-round matches will meet in the other semifinal. The championship match will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the higher seed.

After two early-season losses to Gar-Field and Osbourn Park, Eaton's young Hylton squad did not lose another match until the defeat to Osbourn Park.

"It's the first time in a long time that the Cardinal District has come down to such a dramatic ending at the end of the season," Eaton said. "It's nice that there are any of [several] teams that could vie for the top spot. It's good for the girls and it's good for the county."

The regular season did not play out as expected for Osbourn Park. The defending regular season and tournament champions returned the bulk of their starting lineup, but proved unable to get past Gar-Field this season, losing both matches in four games.