Before her freshman season as a field hockey player at Fauquier, Rachel Letteri was handed her first field hockey stick and placed in goal for the junior varsity team. A year later, she was the varsity team's starting goalie and, it turned out, an important part of the 2003 state tournament team.

"It was a lot of pressure, but I liked the challenge," Letteri said. "It's fun."

The quick development of players such as Letteri, now a junior and a returning All-Extra performer, has been key to the success of Fauquier High School's field hockey program. Although there is no youth feeder program in Fauquier County, the Falcons have managed to develop one of the state's top AA/A programs -- since the AA/A tournament started in 2000, Fauquier has played in it three times.

This year, the Falcons will be looking for more quick development, as they lost all but four starters from a 14-4 squad that used few substitutes.

"It's been 10 years since we lost this many players," Coach Linda Lee said. "But it's coming along. . . . Early on it might be tough, but I think we can do just fine."

Lee will be counting on Letteri to help the team progress. As a freshman on junior varsity, Letteri played only four games because of the region's sniper attacks that forced the cancellation of much of the schedule. But she developed a great deal that summer during a camp.

The following season, Letteri became a varsity starter, much to her surprise. She responded well and was a major contributor to Fauquier's 11-0 record in the Jefferson District. The Falcons also earned a trip to the state semifinals.

"She's an extremely bright girl," said Lee, who is starting her 21st season as coach. "She works hard at everything she does."

Letteri said the coaching has helped her greatly: "Coach Lee is amazing. She's such a good motivator, and she really gets us ready to play."

As she has improved, Letteri has developed a love for the technical aspects of the game. A strong student who is also a member of the Fauquier High orchestra as a violinist, Letteri said the more she plays and the more nuances she picks up, the more she enjoys the sport.

"Each year there's a new challenge," Letteri said. "Last year, it was playing with the varsity team. This year, I'm working with a new teammate. Whatever it is, you've got to step up to the plate."

Rachel Letteri's future in field hockey wasn't up in the air long. She's been goalie since she began.