After winning four games in the first two years of the program -- all last season -- Forest Park is primed for a breakout season. All 10 starters return, and 23 players total are back and much improved, Coach Dan Forgas said, the fruit of camps, winter leagues and offseason tournaments.
"The kids have put the work and the time in over the offseason," Forgas said. "I'm excited. I honestly think the kids have done all the right things to put us in position to be at the top of district."
The roster is dominated by seniors -- 12 in all -- led by MF Chris McManus, the team's top scorer last year with 24 goals and 17 assists. Brandon Bennett, second with 20 goals and six assists last year, will team with classmate Ryan Triplett (17 goals, 7 assists) to form a formidable attack. Rowdy Rudd, and all-district defenseman last year, also returns.
Woodbridge (12-1), the district champion and a Northwestern Region semifinalist last year, has an experienced and skilled team returning, as well. In addition to seniors Kyle Wright and Josh Bryce, seniors Sloane Maudlin, an "attack middie," and Ryan Steptoe, who will play for Virginia Military Institute next year, return to the offense for the Vikings. With the addition of assistant coach Scott Claiborne, who played at Hampden-Sydney College, the offense should be even more varied and effective this season.
The one question mark is in goal, which was vacated by John Bamford, the All-Extra player of the year last season. Sophomore Brad Hester will step into the crease this season, and despite his relative inexperience, Coach Steve Claiborne thinks the transition could be seamless.
"We lost Bamford and three [defenders], but we didn't really lose a lot," Claiborne said. "Some people said we did, but I think Brad is going to surprise a lot of people. He's solid in the cage, very quick, and the guys believe in him, too."
Last season, Gar-Field had a solid defense and a new attack. This year, the opposite is true for Coach Pat Hogan's squad. Seniors Kyle Estep, an all-district attack last year; Brandon Harvey, who scored five goals in two games before breaking his collarbone; and Mark McElwee, second on the team with 24 goals, will attempt to compensate for a defense that has no returning starters.
Most of Hylton's team is new to the sport and will spend this season gaining experience. The top returners for Coach Mike Wisloski are senior MF Silas Hall and junior A David Ojumo.
Cedar Run District
Stonewall Jackson had 72 players try out for the varsity this year, and from that group, Coach Dave Platten has culled a team that could repeat as district champions.
Senior MFs Walter Williams and Eric Smith both return from last season's 11-4 team, along with sophomore A Ryan Verrilli and junior A Mark Allen, who was brought up to the varsity during last year's playoffs. Ryan's older brother, Mark, returns in goal for the Raiders, who have benefited from playing a tough preseason schedule, with scrimmages against public and private schools from Northern Virginia.
"We play those Fairfax teams, and it opens those eyes to see that level of skill," Platten said. "It's just higher and a faster game, which encourages the kids to work in the offseason."
Osbourn Park senior A Patrick Bailey has spent the preseason getting familiar with the double-team. With the graduation of Robbie Lehner, the Cedar Run player of the year, Osbourn Park Coach Kevin Marsh expects defenses to focus on Bailey, who had 50 goals and 17 assists last year and was named all-Northwestern Region along with Lehner.
But Bailey is not the only productive player back for the Yellow Jackets (10-4). The midfield will be bolstered by senior Nick Olson, senior Kevin Henry and junior Dylan Beasley. Junior D Russell Evans returns in front of first-year goaltender David Suthers, and senior A Pete Bolton will be a dangerous outlet for Bailey.
"We look to be competitive in the district again, but I know that this year our success will have to come from hard work," Marsh said. "I tell my players all the time that no one is going to give us a trophy for how talented we are."
Osbourn, under first-year coach Ben Midura, has nine returning starters, and 20 of the 25 players have played the sport before, progress for a program in its second year. Sophomore A Nate Eldredge will move to attack from long-stick midfielder and will be paired with a fellow hockey player, sophomore A Ryan Shepard.
Potomac won only two games last year, but that has not stopped college coaches from noticing its players. Senior As Justin Ratcliff and Sean Cowan have each been recruited by several Division III schools, according to Coach Frank Dunn.
Delaney Athletic Conference
Seton has eight starters returning from a squad that lost to two teams last year, but one of those, Highland, beat the Conquistadors (7-4) three times. An experienced offense and sturdy defense could turn the tables this season. Junior As Erik Hickson and Casey Rafter have started since they were eighth-graders, and senior A Greg Hartle is starting for the fourth year, as well. On defense, senior Matt Parriott and junior Joey Marshall started last year, and Coach Terry Riley thinks junior goaltender Kevin Kaczmarski could be very good.
-- Colin Fitzgibbons