As the lone returning player to Forest Park's starting defense this season, senior Ashleigh Blumer was expected to help the new players on the backline jell. She proved up to the task, with her leadership pacing the Bruins' defense, which recorded nine shutouts en route to the team's second state tournament appearance in three years.

But that challenge was nothing compared with a routine trip to the doctor.

Two weeks ago, while doing normal blood work in preparation for college -- she will play at Richmond next year -- Blumer felt woozy and passed out in the doctor's office, hitting her head and causing a slight concussion.

"I'll see blood on the soccer field and I have no problem with that," Blumer said. "But needles in the doctor's office? It's just a big phobia."

Despite the injury, she played in the Bruins' Cardinal District tournament victories over Woodbridge and Gar-Field. In the latter, she said, "I wasn't sure if I was going to play, but next thing you know, three minutes into the game, they call for me to go in."

Blumer's steady effort on the backline has been a constant for the Bruins. Coach Dave Cresswell trusts her to handle most of the team's free kicks and corners, as well.

"A lot of the ways she plays makes her a good role model," he said. "I've never seen her have a lapse as far as her energy goes. Since her freshman year, she's given me a lot of quality minutes."

Blumer, however, is not the sole cause of the defense's success. Speedy Evangel Christian transfer Elia Lake has exceeded all expectations at center defender, and sophomore Ashley Mims, who played on the junior varsity last year, has made a name for herself by marking some of the area's best players.

That core, along with freshman keeper Sarah Gray and senior defender Danielle Raasch, helped the Bruins (12-2-3) to a 15-game unbeaten streak before the team's 1-0 loss to top-seeded North Stafford in the Northwestern Region final Friday. Forest Park will play Northern Region champion Lake Braddock on Tuesday in a state quarterfinal.

"I'm graduating in a week and to think that in a week we could also be state champs, it's great," Blumer said. "We've had a great season no matter what happens in the playoffs, but we're pushing to go farther."

Still Going . . .

Gar-Field senior Darien Ruggles said the boys' soccer players broke out their "states or bust" T-shirts last week after beating Osbourn in the Northwestern Region semifinals to earn the program's first state tournament berth in school history.

That milestone victory and a strong showing in a 2-0 loss at unbeaten Osbourn Park in the region championship Friday has the Indians optimistic headed into their Virginia AAA quarterfinal Tuesday at Northern Region champion Westfield.

Here's another reason for them to be optimistic: Gar-Field beat Westfield in a spring break tournament. With stressful patches this spring, a midseason coaching change and a loss to Forest Park in the Cardinal District championship -- not to mention a 9-10 record -- the Indians are a bit surprised to still be playing.

A state berth "never really occurs to you, especially when you start out a season so rough," Ruggles said. "You sort of lose hope a little bit. Then you start making your comeback and then it starts to seem like it's a reality, and then bam, you're there. It all happens so quick. I don't think I'd ever imagined I'd have been here, but it's great."