Those fans focused on such standout players as senior MFs Ali Krieger of Forest Park or Lindsey Pendergraph of Woodbridge should remember that in a highly competitive district, success may hinge on the role players.
"This year is wide open because there is no clear-cut No. 1," Hylton Coach Steve Smith said. "Each team in our district has a really talented group of three, four or five players, so it's going to be the rest of the team that's going to make the difference."
Second-team All-Met Pendergraph (seven goals, 13 assists in '02) and senior MF Carmen Myers are two holdovers from last year's Woodbridge squad (20-3) that lost to Robinson in the Virginia AAA state final. But with seven starters having graduated, new Vikings coach Scott Kerns must rely more on young players such as sophomore D Lindsay Gaskins to fill the defense and freshman F Lindsay Bell, who Kerns said has shown versatility and play-making ability.
The second-ranked Vikings start the season banged up; four injured starters missed Friday's 1-0 loss to No. 10 Hayfield.
Experience abounds at Forest Park (10-6-1), which brings back all 11 starters for Coach Dave Cresswell, including the outstanding duo of All-Met Krieger (10 goals, 11 assists), a Penn State signee, and junior F Kim Bonilla, a double-digit goal scorer and second-team All-Met. But Cresswell would like to find more offensive options, and junior F Dara Elk and freshman F Victoria Damren could help in that department.
The Bruins have depth on defense, which is led by senior Lauren Kontos and junior Lindsey DiLuzio.
Hylton (11-8-1), a Virginia AAA state quarterfinalist last year, has the district's top defender in senior Lauren Eaton, a second-team All-Met, and an accomplished, athletic forward in senior Jasmine Byrd (three goals, nine assists). But Radford-bound senior MF Lauren Pratt, who is playing with torn knee cartilige, will have surgery in early April and likely will sit out the rest of the season. The No. 7 Bulldogs will depend heavily on sophomore GK Ashley Welch and ask freshman MF Lisa Eisenzoph to produce in Pratt's absence.
Gar-Field Coach Michelle McDonald routinely puts senior D Ashley Borges on any of the district's top offensive players. At 5 feet 1 inch, Borges compensates for lack of height with tenacity and quick feet. Radford-bound senior GK Tara Oleartchick, whose standout play kept several games close last year, will be asked called on again to help the Indians (4-9) stay competitive.
Cedar Run District
Three of the four district teams have new coaches, leaving an already unpredictable district in even more uncertain terrain. Osbourn Park (9-7) looks to be the safest bet with outstanding senior D Kari Hylton and sophomore F Amanda Olson (13 goals, 5 assists). The Yellow Jackets have 10 starters back, but Coach Rob Watters said younger players will get opportunities to challenge them. After a disappointing loss last season to Stonewall Jackson in the district final, the regular season champion Yellow Jackets finished with a not-so-disappointing penalty-kick loss to eventual state finalist Woodbridge.
Osbourn (9-8) brings back eight starters from a team that finished second to Osbourn Park in the regular season. New coach Jodi Kranich is impressed by the talent of senior MFs Rianna Barrett and Jenn Chamberlain and senior D Nicole Willett, who is coming back from a foot injury.
First-year coach Greg Hyde takes over a surprising Stonewall Jackson (3-13) team that won one game in the regular season then won two more to claim the district tournament title; the Raiders lost in the region quarters to Hylton. Hyde says that talented players such as sophomore F Janna Pearson and sophomore D Jenn Vaughan shouldn't sneak up on anyone in the district. The Raiders return nine starters, including senior MFs Aya Gilpin and Nicole Collins.
Potomac senior Carolyn Amirpashaie moved from forward to sweeper this season because the Panthers, under new coach Lou Hohnka, were lacking on defense. JuniorMF Jill Porto, a cross-country standout, and F Katie Watson should supply the offense.
Bull Run District
Brentsville Coach Christi Ruhstorfer has some holes to fill after a senior-led run to the inaugural Virginia A state title game, which the Tigers (13-3) lost, 3-0, to George Mason.
Topping the list of concerns is in goal, where sophomore Sarah Solebello's good reach and athleticism make her the top candidate to replace the graduated Colleen Thomas. Another possibility is freshman Brenda Cary, sister of Melissa, the district player of the year last season as a senior. There are only three seniors on this year's team, including Robyn VanWingerden, whom Ruhstorfer calls an unsung hero in the midfield.
The Tigers also lined up a more difficult nondistrict schedule, which they hope will ease the transition to AA next season.
Manassas Park (2-15) no longer has a junior varsity program, so new coach Michelle Small will look to build her young team around the varsity squad's lone senior, MF Grisell Juarez, as well as junior D Jenny Clay and junior F Zeneda White.
Delaney Athletic Conference
By scoring a hat trick in a season-opening 3-0 victory against Virginia A state champion George Mason, Seton junior F Bridgit Cooley reaffirmed that she is still the scorer she was last year when she totaled 41 goals.
Unfortunately, the Conquistadors (13-2) may not be the same as they were last year when they won the conference tournament. Their second-leading scorer, sophomore F Kelly Koehr (20 goals), tore her ACL in October and will be out for the season.
Nearly all of Coach Rick Cooley's defense graduated, and new GK Kathleen Terza, whose also in an Olympic development program, will be tested as a freshman.
Emmanuel Christian (4-4-2) opened with a 3-0 victory over Quantico on the strength of a hat trick from senior Brittany Edgar, who played defense last season.
"She's got an unbelievable left foot and she is a natural at scoring goals" said first-year coach Rachel George, who moved Edgar upfield to bolster the Flames' offense. "She surprised everyone."
-- Will Toussaint