Repeat or Rebuild?
With all the starters gone from Forest Park's Virginia AAA championship team, the fifth-year program -- and four-time Cardinal District champion -- will depend more on height and blocking ability and a bit less on ball control. A three-game sweep of Stonewall Jackson to start the season was an encouraging sign. "The potential is there," said Bruins Coach Dan Jones, who saw both promise and problems in scrimmages against state semifinalist Robinson and state quarterfinalist Centreville. "It's just going to take some time to get a clearer picture of how dedicated they're going to be and how willing they're going to be to adhere to new philosophies and new ways of doing things." Middle hitter Keshia Gibbs, outside hitter Sarah Floyd and setter Andrea Ball -- all seniors -- are among the more experienced returners.
A New Power Park?
Osbourn Park, which plays at Forest Park on Tuesday, welcomes back almost everyone off the 2003 Cedar Run District championship team that went 16-7, among them setter Kristen Wolf, defensive specialist Christie Kirby and middle hitter Adora Luster, all seniors. "There's a lot of playing experience on my team right now, and I think that's going to be key," Yellow Jackets Coach Kate Southcott said. "We've got 100 percent of kids playing year-round volleyball, half for one team and half for another team. It's sort of like putting two all-star teams together and letting them go. . . . "
Raiders for Real?
Stonewall Jackson, which had no seniors on the 13-7 team that went unbeaten during the Cedar Run regular season last year, is just about as experienced as district rival Osbourn Park, the team it twice beat in five-game matches last fall. Outside hitter Heather Page (about to return from a broken wrist), setter Katie Speaks and middle hitter Kendra Sloan are the team's tri-captains. "I know OP has a whole lot of talent on the team and a whole lot of girls who play travel ball, but we have that team unity that we worked on last year and the girls have played together a lot," Raiders second-year coach Jessica Hruska said. "Hopefully, that plays into our favor."
Hylton, which brings back seven players off a 10-14 team that showed flashes of promise last season, was the last Prince William County team to beat Forest Park, in the 2001 region final. Three starters are back -- middle hitter Mallory Cashdollar, defensive specialist-outside hitter Alex Roderick and outside hitter Lindsey Sellman. All three are seniors. Other than Forest Park and Hylton, the other two Cardinal teams have new coaches, Shelley Streed at Gar-Field and Fernando Montanez at Woodbridge. New school Freedom is not fielding a varsity team this season.
Teams from southeast Virginia or Richmond had won the previous eight Virginia AAA titles before Forest Park's triumph over Virginia Beach school Tallwood last year. At least one coach thinks the Northwestern Region has a chance to make it two in a row. "Because of graduation last year across the state, whatever two teams manage to get out of the Northwestern Region will have a real shot in the state tournament," said Forest Park assistant Rob Gaither, who also coaches a Clash Volleyball Club team. Hylton won the first two state titles, in 1993 and '94.
-- PRESTON WILLIAMS