At least one Prince William County girls' lacrosse team found out it is catching up to the level played by Northwestern Region kingpin Albemarle. The next step is to decide whether the length of games played in Prince William should catch up to those played by the Charlottesville school.

Osbourn Park Coach Kate Thomas thought her team's 14-12 loss at Albemarle in the region semifinals last Thursday stretched anywhere from 15 to 26 minutes longer than games played locally because at Albemarle the clock is stopped after goals, unlike games in Prince William.

"I'm not saying that we would have won," said Thomas, whose team led by three goals early in the second half. "But you could see the fatigue in the second half mentally and physically because we'd never played that length of a game all season. The game just kind of went on and on, and we were beginning to fade."

Thomas is hoping that all the region schools will play the same length of games next season. Preliminary discussions began at the all-region meeting Monday. The fact that this is even an issue illustrates what coaches say is a narrowing gap between Prince William teams and Albemarle, which blasted Osbourn Park and Stonewall Jackson by a combined 37-4 score in the 2003 region tournament.

"They were going to kick our butts last year no matter what, and the year before that and the year before that," Thomas said. "All of a sudden [the length of games] is an issue because the game was so close. That was kind of unfair to us, but I never questioned it before because I never did think about it before. This year it's kind of been brought to light."

Forest Park Coach Larry Young, whose team lost, 20-4, to Albemarle in the region championship Saturday, thinks the length-of-games discrepancy will take care of itself.

"I think eventually as more counties and more regions adopt lacrosse and the regional playoff system expands and the state playoff system expands, you'll have consistency throughout," Young said. "Now what we need to do is to build up a youth program to be able to get athletes from other sports to come and play lacrosse. It's usually a good combination -- start with athleticism and then learn individual lacrosse skills, and after that you start teaching the kids team concepts about the sport."

Girls' high school lacrosse has been an official Prince William activity for five seasons. In the Charlottesville area, not only are the high school teams far more established, there are middle school programs, too. For Osbourn Park players, that historical perspective -- and compliments from Albemarle personnel -- helped soften the blow of the region semifinal loss.

"I think that we made a very loud statement in that semifinal game," said Thomas, whose 14-4 team will lose only two starters, midfielder Lindsay Farmer and attack Devon White. "I think Albemarle was shocked, and it took them to the second half to realize, oh my gosh, somebody from up north is beating us. It's exciting. I think the gap has definitely narrowed. We'd like it to be no gap at all next year."