Woodbridge senior Casey Frazier has battled a sore back through the latter half of this cross-country season, and it may have cost him a chance at the Cardinal District title. But yesterday, on the eve of the Virginia AAA championships, his final high school meet, Frazier was upbeat and confident.

"I feel much better than I did at districts--plus I have these two guys to pull me along," Frazier said, nodding over his shoulder toward sophomores Derek Grotheer and Mike Lyng, who were completing their after-practice cool-down routine.

Entering the season, the thought of Grotheer and Lyng "pulling" Frazier would have seemed absurd. Frazier had finished seventh in the district as a junior, and for most of this season, he was clearly the Vikings' front-runner.

But the two sophomores have gone from Frazier's understudies to fellow stars at just the right time.

Grotheer, who generally ran third for Woodbridge, finished fifth at last week's Northwestern Region championships--three seconds ahead of Lyng and 10 seconds ahead of Frazier. It was the first time this season Grotheer finished ahead of Lyng, his friend since middle school, when the two ran track together at Lake Ridge.

The trio helped Woodbridge erase the memory of a disappointing second-place finish to Potomac at districts and qualify for today's meet at Great Meadows. Although there is always competition within a team, Frazier could not have been happier to see Grotheer pass him at regionals.

"It took regionals for Derek to realize his potential," Frazier said.

"In workouts, he's always right there. I confided in Mike earlier this season that I thought Derek had something more in him. Whatever it was, I knew it had kicked in when I saw him go by me."

Grotheer said that his poor showing at districts motivated him, and that he now has a new understanding of how hard he can push himself.

"It's just 3.1 miles," Grotheer said. "If that race didn't kill me, this one won't either. I just have to give everything I've got."

Lyng said the fact that the three ran close together for the entire race was a major reason for the improved team score.

"When you see a teammate come up behind you, it really pumps you up and makes you want to go with him and catch people," Lyng said.

"We really ran as a team at regionals and we have to do that again" today."

Lyng has been the Vikings' most consistent runner this season and finished third overall at districts. Frazier said Lyng has natural leadership qualities.

"Mike was a leader when he was a freshman," Frazier said. "He might be the most mature person I know, for his age."

When he looks at the rapid progress of the two underclassmen, Frazier is proud of them, excited about today's race and disappointed that it is his last with Woodbridge.

"They are both classy guys," Frazier said. "I wish I had two more years to run with them."

Hylton Girls Shift Focus

The Hylton girls were thrilled to repeat as Northwestern Region champions this year, but that is where they want the similarities to last year to end. The Bulldogs are looking to avoid a repeat of the 1998 state meet, when they finished 10th. Coach Chris McGivern pointed to inexperience and burnout as the primary reasons for last year's collapse.

"I may have been guilty of over-coaching a bit last year," McGivern said.

"The kids got themselves so up for regionals that emotionally they were fried by the time states came around."

This year, McGivern shifted the focus from qualifying for states and winning regionals to accomplishing something at states. Junior Richelle Plotz is running in her third state meet and said the team has a different attitude this year.

"Last year we were just glad to be there and we had nothing left," Plotz said. "I don't think we even considered where we would place. This year we weren't as worried about getting there so now we're more focused. We are also more team-oriented this season, which should help us."

CROSS-COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS

Teams and individuals competing at today's Virginia state cross-country championships at Great Meadows.

TEAMS

Boys

Stafford, Woodbridge.

Girls

Brooke Point, Hylton, Osbourn Park.

INDIVIDUALS

Boys

Jason Lewis, Potomac; Scott Lingo, North Stafford; Jamaal Saunders, Potomac; Erik Uribe, Potomac; Nick Wilson, Hylton.

Girls

Johanna Allen, Potomac; Ashley Dameron, Stafford; Dionne Evans, Gar-Field; Bonnie Ludlow, Stafford; Carol McCree, Osbourn; Kristyn Shiring, North Stafford.