When talk this preseason turned to ranking the four Cardinal District girls' basketball teams, Woodbridge Coach George Washington bristled at the notion of his Vikings, reigning state semifinalists who returned just five players, being installed at the top spot.
"To me, that doesn't pass the common sense test," Washington said at the time.
By coaching some of Forest Park's players during the summer, and from being neighbors with others, Washington surmised the Bruins might be on to something special.
He was right.
Third-year program Forest Park, which returned all five starters from a year ago as well as five other players, is 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state by the Associated Press and ranked 13th in the Washington area. The Bruins have done it with pressure defense, a deep bench -- 12 girls have scored eight or more points in a game this season -- and a we-have-no-stars mantra that at times borders on militant.
"That's what's really funny -- we don't have a best player," Forest Park Coach Chrissy Kelly said this season. "Every one on my team -- and I mean every single person -- brings something to the table,and that's how I've always 'raised' them. I leave the papers to do the singling out. I don't do that, and because I don't do it, it's kept this team very tight-knit."
The area AAA teams were idle Tuesday because of exams, a pause that offers prime opportunity to reflect on what has been an intriguing season, with the budding of the Forest Park girls as an area power just one of the main story lines.
The Osbourn Park boys' and girls' teams are both in first place in the Cedar Run District after going a combined 1-11 in the district last season. The Osbourn Park girls are only 4-7 but reeled off three straight wins in the Cedar Run, where none of the four teams has a winning overall record.
The Forest Park girls have been the only local team not to lose to another local team and are one of six area squads that already has equaled or exceeded win totals from last year, joining the Gar-Field girls, Stonewall Jackson boys (with wins over Gar-Field and Woodbridge), Forest Park boys, Osbourn Park boys and Osbourn Park girls.
The Brentsville boys (9-6, 5-0) are again cruising in the Bull Run District but have not yet faced defending champion Clarke County, the No. 3 ranked A team in the state.
Here are other observations on the first half of the season:
Top boys' player: A tough category. Gar-Field junior guard Chris Vann is the area's leading scorer, but other players, such as Hylton junior Jermaine Hill and Osbourn Park senior Adam Hinton-Moore, are averaging in the double-double range. For now, the pick might be Potomac junior forward Jason Flagler (17.7 ppg), the best player on probably the best team.
Top girls' player: Although she was held to four points Friday by Forest Park, Hylton senior guard Jasmine Byrd is the top area scorer at 16.3 ppg, second-most accurate free-throw shooter at 77.6 percent and the leading three-pointer shooter, with 2.2 per game.
Top boys' coaching job: Osbourn Park's Danny Lawray has guided the Yellow Jackets (8-4) to their first wins over Gar-Field and Potomac since 1988 and a 3-0 mark in the Cedar Run District. Osbourn Park had gone 51-165 the previous 10 seasons.
Top girls' coaching job: Forest Park's Kelly has the third-year Bruins rolling, with the first victory over Woodbridge in school history and the Bulldog Bash Holiday Tournament title.
Top boys' newcomer: Before the season, the question with Potomac was, who would be the Panthers' third primary scorer? The answer has come in the form of freshman guard Eric Hayes, son of Coach Kendall Hayes. The younger Hayes is averaging 10.9 points and has made 23 three-pointers. Honorable mention: Manassas Park senior guard Sidney Welch, a transfer from Osbourn, stepped in to take over for senior Price Ward, who elected not to play this season. Welch is averaging 15.5 ppg.
Top girls' newcomer: Forest Park freshman forward Monica Wright, a "beast" as one rival coach marveled before the season, leads the Bruins with 11.3 ppg, an average that would be even higher if not for 44 percent free-throw shooting. Honorable mention: Stonewall Jackson senior forward Shadonne Marsh, a transfer from El Paso, is averaging 10.9 ppg and already has attempted 103 foul shots.
Top boys' scoring performance: Brentsville senior guard Brian Owen racked up 36 points in a 71-56 win over James Wood in the championship of the Dudley Martin Chevrolet Holiday Classic. Owen made seven two-pointers, six three-pointers and 4 of 5 foul shots. Honorable mention: Stonewall Jackson senior guard Onyie Onunaku scored 34 points in a 76-67 loss to Osbourn Park on Jan. 10.
Top girls' scoring performance: Against Stonewall on Jan. 3, Hylton's Byrd totaled 33 points on five two-pointers, five three-pointers and 8 of 11 foul shots.
Most overlooked boys' player: Osbourn senior forward Brandon Oglesby is averaging 17.4 points and shooting 85.3 percent from the line. Honorable mention: Vann's area-best 20.1 ppg has come with minimal fanfare.
Most overlooked girls' player: Other than Byrd, Potomac junior guard Tiffany Jenkins is the only player in the top five in scoring (14.1 ppg), free-throw shooting (73.8 percent) and three-pointers (1.3 pg). Jenkins has helped carry a team that lost two standout guards to transfers.
Top boys' game: Forest Park recorded its first win against Woodbridge, 48-45, in triple overtime after trailing by five in the first extra period. Before that, the Bruins had been 0-14 against their three Cardinal District rivals. Honorable mention: Stonewall senior Tyc Snow was fouled while sinking a three-pointer with less than a second to play -- and made the subsequent free throw -- for a 64-63 win over Osbourn.
Top girls' game: Woodbridge played defending state champion Princess Anne to a 53-52 loss. The Vikings' three losses this season have been to the two top-ranked teams in the state as chosen by the Associated Press -- Forest Park (five-point loss) and Princess Anne -- and Riverdale Baptist (nine-point loss), ranked seventh in the Washington area.