Osbourn Park volleyball coach Kate Southcott had a dozen painted pumpkins, one for each member of her team, that she planned to pass out at an Oct. 14 match against Woodbridge.
Late last week, with Prince William County athletic activities on hold and the pumpkins still sitting in her home, Southcott made house calls, dropping off the gourds at her players' homes. On her trip, she encountered the same mixed emotions that most teams have faced during the extended timeout caused by the sniper shootings.
"They understand one minute, and then the next minute they're frustrated," Southcott said. "Win or lose, I can't wait to get back to practice. We're all dying to play."
Although no decision is expected until tomorrow, volleyball teams might get that chance this week. One possible scenario offered by several coaches would have county volleyball teams playing three district matches in four days starting Tuesday, and forgoing the canceled nondistrict matches. Such a solution would allow district and regional playoffs to remain on schedule, but would scuttle attractive nondistrict matches such as Osbourn Park against No. 7 Forest Park.
It would also force teams to play crucial district matches on Tuesday without having practiced in nearly two weeks, because practices have been prohibited through tomorrow. But Forest Park Coach Dan Jones thought that obstacle could be overcome.
"They've had plenty of repetitions at all the drills, and I think they'll get back in it pretty quickly," he said. "These are situations beyond our control, and we'll just do as best as we can."
Perhaps most frustrating to county volleyball coaches, other local teams -- like those in Fairfax and Arlington counties -- have been practicing and playing matches during much of the past two weeks.
"Everyone else is getting better, and we're watching TV in the afternoon," Hylton Coach Karen Mays said. "It's always been my philosophy that struggles usually make you stronger, and this will just be another adverse situation we'll have to struggle through. We have to make it into a positive any way we can."
The layoff also threatens to disrupt No. 7 Forest Park's thus-far flawless season. The 15-0 Bruins have been doing cardiovascular drills on their own while hoping they get the chance to make a second straight appearance in the state tournament.
"We all have talent, and the talent won't go away," junior outside hitter Marisa Gross said. "We really want to play, and it's really frustrating not knowing when you're going to be able to play. We can go very far, and I'd be really upset if something like this would stop us."
Cross-Country Instead of competing in the Albemarle Invitational and trying to peak just right for the postseason, Stonewall Jackson senior Kristin Milot has spent the last two weekends indoors, running in place.
Like every other cross-country runner in Prince William County, Milot has been forced by the sniper attacks to train in private, away from her coach and teammates -- and with no guarantee that she is preparing for anything. School officials won't decide until tomorrow whether to allow teams to meet again, or whether district meets that were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will be run at the same time and place -- if at all.
If they are allowed to run, coaches and athletes who haven't had a meet since Oct. 5 worry that they've lost too much training to be competitive.
"It's been really tough because I'm alone, no one has been around to push me," said Milot, considered one of the top runners in Virginia AAA. "But it's especially scary because of the proximity of my school to the shooting in Manassas. It's literally two miles away -- my parents use that gas station and we've eaten at Pargo's [restaurant] behind that Sunoco."
Although she discusses her training over the phone with Coach Kristi Ellison, Milot feels she is merely maintaining her fitness level on a treadmill.
"You can't simulate training very well on a treadmill that only does a six-minute mile," Ellison said. "We're just talking about basic aerobic exercise. What happens if we get out there after all this time -- we could have a lot of pulls and injuries."
At this point, Milot said she would use the district meet to "work out the kinks" before moving on to regionals. However, that's where the effects of the two-week lull could hit the hardest.
"We're not going to be competitive if they have a district or regional meet," said Woodbridge Coach Jim Rodgers, who will retire after the season. "There's no way we're going to be able to make up a two-week disadvantage. It's a shame for the kids -- it kinda feels like a lost season."
For the Prince William girls' tennis programs that advanced to regional play, the uncertainty is over. But the frustration lingers.
Woodbridge and Osbourn Park, the Cardinal and Cedar Run champions, respectively, endured delays yet still found themselves playing "home" quarterfinal matches two hours away in Charlottesville.
Woodbridge lost to Patrick Henry-Roanoke, 5-1, on Thursday at Albemarle High School, while across town, Osbourn Park fell to Culpeper, 5-1, at Western Albemarle High. Both matches were played at neutral sites in response to the county ban on all athletic activities.
"It was almost like being in the NBA, just about every other day we'd get up and travel, then we'd come back, go to sleep and go out and travel," said Woodbridge Coach Lewis Forrest, whose team two Thursdays ago traveled to Lynchburg only to turn around when rain washed out the match.
Osbourn Park Coach Lisa Rucker said: "My girls had not played together as a team since the district finals [Oct. 9] and we had to constantly travel. We had it in our grasp and we let it slip away."
On Wednesday, Cardinal runner-up Forest Park lost, 5-0, at E.C. Glass, and Cedar Run runner-up Stonewall Jackson lost, 5-0, to host Albemarle.
If the field hockey season were to end without a county tournament, which was scheduled to begin tomorrow, regular season leader Woodbridge likely would be the county's regional representative, and that doesn't sit well with Forest Park Coach Julie McClellan.
"I'd be very disappointed," McLellan said. "I would like another chance to play Woodbridge. If they are going to do it, they should play out the district tournament and do it right. It's irritating."
Only four county teams play field hockey -- Woodbridge, Forest Park, Osbourn Park and Stonewall Jackson -- and last year, the county sent only one team to regionals.
For Osbourn Park Coach Helene Shields, the likelihood of seeing five regular season games wiped out is just as frustrating.
"The girls are kind of bummed," Shields said. "I just feel bad for the kids who are vying for scholarships, who are going to get looked at in other sports and at other schools."
Special correspondents Will Toussaint and Colin Fitzgibbons contributed to this report.