In their first year rowing a lightweight four, the Forest Park girls surprised some opponents, turning in three straight first-place finishes in April. But on Saturday at the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships on the Occoquan River, the Bruins got a surprise of their own.

Forest Park finished third (5 minutes 52.6 seconds) in a tight race behind Woodson (5:44.4) and second-place Gar-Field (5:48.7). All three boats remained close throughout the 1,500-meter race, but Woodson and Gar-Field sprinted to finish 11/2 boat lengths ahead of the Bruins.

"It was a little surprise," Forest Park Coach Heather Cox said. "We've beaten Gar-Field before, but they were stronger on Saturday, and they deserved it. Now our girls are hungry, and once you get them fired up there's no stopping them."

Forest Park's goal is to make it past the semifinals at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta on Philadelphia's Schuykill River this weekend. Only two rowers, senior stroke Liz O'Neil and sophomore Brooke Hollabaugh, have been to Stotesbury; they were members of last year's varsity eight that made it to the semifinals. But what the newcomers -- sophomore coxswain Liz Swain, sophomore Callie Tomczak and freshman Stephanie Ferguson -- lack in experience they make up for in determination, Cox said.

The Forest Park coaches have focused their attention on the fours, modifying the practice schedule to give the lightweight four additional practice time in the hopes that the boat will surprise some boats in Philadelphia and at the NCASRA championships on the Occoquan on May 22.

"We're a young boat, but that's what makes us even more excited and proud of them," Cox said. "We've been rewarded with success so far, and we hope it will continue."

Expected Finish for Vikings Boys

The Woodbridge boys' varsity four's third-place finish was less of a surprise Saturday. Most of the attention was on Mathews, the Tidewater area school that won its fourth consecutive race over West Potomac, the team that beat Mathews in the state championships last year. Mathews finished in 4:52.8, ahead of West Potomac (4:57.7) and Woodbridge (5:02.3).

"We finished about where we thought we would," Vikings Coach Tom Moulen said. "We've been third against those two other teams, and we knew they were going to be tough."

Mathews and West Potomac have back complete fours from last year, but Woodbridge didn't start racing the four until the end of last season. And although the boat of seniors Joe McMullen, Mike Hantjis, Ryan Dickriede, Russell Howe and Scott Morgan is better, technique-wise, than those on his previous teams, Moulen said they did not have enough time to get acclimated to rowing the smaller boat and should improve the next couple of weeks.

"We have more issues to repair than [Mathews and West Potomac] do, so our potential for growth is greater," said Moulen, who will start the crew program at Battlefield High School, opening this fall in the Haymarket area.

Though his team is new to the four, Moulen is a veteran. He coached the Gar-Field girls' four to a gold medal at Nationals before coming to Woodbridge 12 years ago.

Correction

An April 29 article reported incorrectly that Hylton's girls' varsity eight finished fourth in the finals at the Regional Park Regatta. The Bulldogs finished fourth in their heat.