Loudoun Valley senior center Hunter Bowie, the team's sixth man last year, is one of only two returning players with varsity experience. It would be reasonable to expect that he is having his way on offensive in practice against younger, more unseasoned players.

Not so with junior Keith Horn.

At 6 feet 4, Horn is just as tall as Bowie and made life difficult for Bowie throughout the preseason.

"He's given Hunter Bowie all the competition he wants, as far as playing time goes," Coach Jeff Jackson said. "He stands out the most. He's done a real good job in the time he's been out there."

Loudoun Valley will need Horn's shot-blocking this season because he and Bowie are the tallest players. Horn, however, is not as broad as Bowie, but their practice battles should serve as proper indoctrination to the varsity experience.

"He's about twice my size, but he's good preparation for the season," said Horn, who weighs 185 pounds. "Going against him in practice helps a lot. It's a challenge. I'll be prepared for anything that comes, and I won't be intimidated by their size."

Horn's preparation dates to sixth grade, during which the fundamentals of his game were rooted. He played for a AAU under-14 team based in Winchester and learned such basics as keeping a hand on a player's back to stop progress, placement of his legs in post defense and how to front someone on the low blocks.

"All of the basic things I learned when I was little, I use now," Horn said. "All that stuff from back in the day, in sixth or seventh grade, kind of stuck with me. The basics are what wins game, and if you've got those down, everything else falls into place."

Despite his fundamental soundness, Horn joined the team somewhat unsure of himself. But his defensive success in practice against Bowie has bolstered his confidence and even spawned good-natured trash talking among teammates, which should prove beneficial for Bowie, Horn and the rest of the team.

"If I blocked him, I'll ask him, 'What happened there?' " Horn said. "Then we go to the other end of the court, he'll do the same to me. It's healthy, friendly. Us going against each other helps us both grow, and it's definitely going to help the team."

At 6 feet 4, junior Keith Horn is one of Loudoun Valley's tallest players and has sound fundamentals. The Vikings need him to provide a shot-blocking presence.