Osbourn Park has cracked the top five in the state volleyball coaches' poll (No. 3) for the first time in the tenure of six-year coach Kate Southcott, based in large part on its early season wins over Langley and Kellam in Richmond and a recent three-game sweep of Fauquier.

"I just hope we can maintain it," Southcott said. "[At the showcase in early September], everybody went, 'Wow, who are they, and where did they come from?' "

Forest Park is still the better known Prince William County volleyball program statewide, considering it won the 2003 state championship and is the only team north of Richmond to win the Virginia AAA crown since Hylton did so in 1994.

Despite beating the Bruins twice last season, and despite those turned heads in Richmond, Osbourn Park still has not mastered its county rival, as evidenced by a 3-0 loss Sept. 6, the teams' lone regular season meeting.

"We played as scared as we can be," Southcott said. "There's always a team out there that's everyone's Achilles' heel, and they are mine."

The Yellow Jackets (11-3) have not lost since that match -- including a pleasing sweep of Fauquier, a team that beat Forest Park. The schedule stiffens next Saturday when Osbourn Park and Forest Park each travels to Mills Godwin to play the host Eagles and Douglas Freeman, the top-ranked team in the coaches' poll.

On Oct. 18, Osbourn Park will play Fauquier again in the match that likely will determine the regular season Cedar Run District champion.

"Watching [us] play as well as [we] did against Fauquier, and knowing [Fauquier] had already beaten Forest Park, was a huge mental bridge to get over," Southcott said. "We'll have to do it again and probably again before any banners are even thought about being hung."

Outside hitter Ashley Ferry and libero Kerry Shannon, both seniors, have helped carry Osbourn Park and often need little input from their coach to carry out the game plan.

"There's nobody on the floor who knows me and what I'm thinking better than the two of them, whether it's sarcastic or serious, getting mad or just laughing," Southcott said. "They know me. It's like they look at me and [think]: 'Never mind, don't say it.' It's a comfortable setting to be in."

Sophomore middle hitter Lori Race is expected to return soon from a dislocated shoulder suffered in a win over Hylton.

Having a Ball

Even with no seniors last year when the school opened, Battlefield was able to field freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams and build a foundation for a strong program, even though many of the Bobcats' inaugural teams struggled.

Battlefield (9-5) has continued that ascent this season, with only one senior, middle hitter Kristin King, on the roster.

"It was just getting the word out early and having the girls come out and try playing the game," Bobcats Coach Michelle McGregor said. "There are a lot of kids who haven't played before who actually have natural ability. They come out and have fun and get into it and, hey, you have them hooked."

Battlefield challenged Fauquier on Thursday, losing the first game 25-23 and winning the second before dropping the next two. King and junior outside hitter Sidney Harbold combined for 16 kills and 31 earlier in the week in a win over Stonewall Jackson.

On Tuesday, the Bobcats will face district front-runner Osbourn Park, which handily won the teams' first meeting.

Good First Impression

When Brazilian exchange student Bruna De Souza showed up for her first volleyball practice, the Osbourn players and Coach Brett Machovec shared the same reaction.

"I noticed a couple of raised eyebrows when she started hitting and doing some things," Machovec said. "That's exactly how I perceived the looks: Hey, this girl can play.

"We didn't know what we were getting and she walked in and from the beginning we knew we had a volleyball player on our hands and knew right away that she'd be an important part of our team."

De Souza, a senior middle blocker, and senior outside hitter Lindsey Fuller have helped Osbourn win seven of its first 11 matches, including a victory over Hylton.

Machovec, in his first year at Osbourn, moved to the area from Rochester, N.Y.