If the Potomac Falls cross-country team has fallen below the radar a bit this season, maybe it's because the team has been out of town.

Last week the Panthers traveled to Smithsburg, Md., for the Don Stoner Invitational and returned with the boys' and girls' titles. On Sept. 11, the Panthers traveled to the Frank Keyser Invite in Boonsboro, Md., where the girls finished second and the boys fifth in a tough race.

"If I could go to Timbuktu and run, I would," Coach Brian Blubaugh said. "If I can go somewhere else and see someone else, I'm going to do it. We're going to see [Region II rivals such as] Brentsville plenty of times at the end of the season, but I think it's important to work on things against different competition."

The wins in Smithsburg were a highlight for a pair of emerging squads. Yesterday the Panthers were slated to race in the elite Glory Days Invitational, which featured two of Virginia's top girls' squads, Oakton and Lake Braddock, as well as AA boys' favorite Brentsville.

The boys, who returned four of their top six runners from last year's AA Dulles District championship team, made a strong statement at the Lake Fairfax Invitational on Sept. 18, when they finished second among difficult AAA competition. The Panthers have also seen Max Werner, Torrie Patrick and Sean Wilson emerge as strong individual runners.

"Last year we had a team that ran in a pack, but no real front-runners," Blubaugh said. "This year we have three guys who could possibly end up top 15 in the state."

On the girls' team, Kiersten Petersen has emerged as a standout; she finished first at Don Stoner as the Panthers cruised to an easy victory.

Even if the Panthers don't make a splash at the Glory Days meet, Blubaugh is confident his team is on the right track.

"This is a big meet, but it's not the postseason," he said. "We've still got some things to work on, but they're getting better every week."

Highland Keeps Going

The Highland boys' soccer team has a new coach and a new system this season, but the Hawks are having their usual success.

After a 2-1 win over Emmanuel Christian on Thursday afternoon, the Hawks, who have only three seniors, improved to 8-1 overall.

"It's a fairly young team, but there's a lot of talent," first-year coach David Deisterhoft said. "You never know what will happen with a new coach, but they've adjusted very well."

The Hawks are two years removed from winning the Virginia Independent Schools state championship, and a year ago they were the champions of the Delaney Athletic Conference. This year, the Hawks have outscored opponents 41-12. Their only loss was 4-2 against Fredericksburg Christian on Sept. 27.

Highland's offense is led by sophomores Chris Ely and Ben Boddery and junior Kyle Hendrick, while juniors Greg Soley and Clay Hanback shore up the midfield. Defensively, the Hawks are led by senior sweeper Harrison Young and senior goalkeeper Peter Nauer.

The DAC tournament begins Oct. 18, but the Hawks await one of their toughest tests on Tuesday: a game against Seton.

"That's a big game for us, in part to get good seeding for the DAC tournament," Deisterhoft said. "We want to finish the season on top, and we want to put ourselves in the best position for that."

College Choices

Loudoun Valley softball players Jennifer and Jessica Everhart have orally committed to colleges. Jennifer, a first-team All-Met shortstop, accepted a full scholarship to Radford University; Jessica will attend Virginia Tech on a partial scholarship during her freshman year, then on a full scholarship thereafter.

Jennifer last season batted .569 in the leadoff spot for the Vikings, who won the Dulles District title and advanced to the Virginia AA semifinals. She had 58 hits, 29 RBI and 44 runs scored and made zero errors in her first full season at shortstop after moving from second base.

Second baseman Jessica hit .427 last season with 30 RBI and 26 runs; she also did not make an error.

Staff writer Gene Wang contributed to this report.

Potomac Falls Coach Brian Blubaugh sees the benefits of traveling to out-of-town meets.