On occasion in recent seasons, Forest Park volleyball player Sarah Floyd has sung the national anthem with Coach Dan Jones, a duet that always delights the Bruins and just might inspire them to operate even more in harmony once the match starts.

But this season, when Jones refers to senior Floyd as "the voice" of the team, he is not referring to her singing in two choirs at the school. Besides being a valuable on-court back row presence, she will fill just about every intangible role on a defending Virginia AAA championship team that lost nine seniors, most of them starters. It is a team striving to win a fifth Cardinal District title, one for each year the school has been open.

"She's kind of the unifying force," Jones said. "Everything goes through her, not just on the court but all the sidebar things that take place on a team. You have a team that's coming back that really doesn't have it's personality. I think in a situation like that you need someone like Sarah who's been around and is experienced and has watched and learned.

"If we didn't have Sarah, it would be difficult to identify another leader on the team. I'm sure if the situation dictated that, someone would step forward. But it's nice not having to go through some ups and downs to get there."

At Forest Park it has been almost entirely ups for Floyd, who has played on teams that have gone 72-6 the past three seasons. Some of the 2004 graduates were girls Floyd had been teammates with since sixth grade.

She welcomes a leadership role on a youthful team that perhaps has the talent to earn another state tournament bid but lacks the knowledge of what it takes to get there.

"[This season] was kind of a good opportunity for me to play with different people, because I had played with the same people most of my life," said Floyd, a second-team all-Cardinal choice last season. "In a way, I was kind of looking forward to it, having just a different mix of people, a different chemistry.

"I've had the opportunity to see how varsity teams mesh together. That's one thing -- I know the process."

Forest Park's Sarah Floyd, right, is back, but many players have graduated, including Katie Wolter, left. This photo is from last year's state final.