In the quarterfinals of the Delaney Athletic Conference tournament Oct. 26, the Highland boys soccer team was upset by Emmanuel Christian, which prevailed in a penalty-kick shootout after a 2-2 draw.

But the setback is not of paramount concern to a Hawks program that improved from 6-7-1 to 9-2-3 overall in just one season. The health of star forward Mark Miller, on the other hand, is.

The junior will undergo an operation Nov. 15 designed to expand his chest cavity, which, according to first-year coach Bob Allen, has not grown at the same rate as Miller's body.

"This season he came down with very bad pain that challenged his endurance," Allen said. "He was tested every day. It's going to take three to six months of rehabilitation to get him back into the season."

Miller was the leading scorer on a Highland team that got 71 goals in 14 matches this season, and it was his two goals that pulled the Hawks even against the Flames after they trailed 2-0 in the second half.

"He was definitely one of [our] biggest strengths . . . this year," said Allen, whose team--in only its fourth year--finished second in the DAC at 7-1-2. "Whenever he was in front of the goal with the ball, things were going to happen."

Allen remains upbeat about Highland's growth and improvement.

"We are fortunate that soccer in this community is very strong," he said. "We have a good base [of players] to choose from. There's good chemistry, and we have a program that's very aggressive."

Loudoun's two other Delaney Athletic Conference schools met in the tournament's first round, where Wakefield defeated Notre Dame, 4-1. Each team finished with a 3-7 conference record.

Notre Dame was led by senior forward Adam Loranzetti, who scored 28 goals. But he was one of the few experienced players on a team that had trouble holding onto leads.

"It was a learning season for a lot of the younger players," Dragons Coach Mike Doran said. "We were competitive, but once the other teams saw what our weaknesses were, they were able to pick on them. In the end the young players weren't up to it. But they've all improved, and we're hoping with a few additions, we'll be able to improve [as a team]."

Wakefield lost to eventual tournament runner-up Fredericksburg Christian, 12-0, in the quarterfinals.

The Few, the Proud

For a high school boys soccer team that fields one sixth-grader and several eighth-graders, a 6-8 season and a conference tournament victory is cause for celebration. Leesburg Christian, which plays an independent schedule but competes in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament, managed to pull 14 players from a high school of fewer than 50 students and be competitive.

"It was surprising how well they were playing by the end of the season," Lions Coach Dan Duis said. "You really have to have the time to develop the kind of fundamentals you want to when you have kids who come out for the first time. You may have a couple of kids with some skills and some experience, and if you have other kids that can come in and play a role, it's amazing how much you can come together."

Duis's sons played important roles for the Lions this season. Freshman Sammy led Leesburg with 13 goals, and his brother Tyler, the sixth-grader, started with him in midfield.