The imposing 6-foot-4 figure of second-team All-Met middle hitter Meredith Doyle was enough to put some opponents away before the Langley volleyball team took the floor last season. But her presence wasn't enough to save the Saxons, who had a 21-match win streak snapped early in the Northern Region tournament.

Langley (9-3, 4-0 AAA Liberty District) has not had the same regular season success this year, but Coach Susan Shifflett thinks that her team might be better. Part of the reason is that Doyle's replacements, Taylor Kampa and Kara Vonder Reith, have played well, but are happy to be working under the radar.

"Everyone knew who Meredith was," Vonder Reith said. "All the schools were scared of her. They don't talk about us the same way. I think we're surprising some teams now."

Said Kampa: "The two of us together is kind of like one Meredith."

Shifflett sees an increased level of toughness on the team, which she credits to early-season matches against such competition as Robinson, Herndon and Centreville of the Concorde District, as well as a meeting with last year's state runner-up, Richmond school Douglas Freeman.

All three Langley losses this year have been in five sets, although the Saxons did exact revenge on Centreville, the team that defeated them in regionals last year, in a five-set match. Shifflett hopes that the experience of being in hard-fought matches will be beneficial in this year's postseason.

"We had a history of being a little soft," Shifflett said. "I wanted to toughen us up so that when we get into those long five-setters come playoff time, we can win them."

Oakton States Case

The Oakton boys' cross-country team earned an impressive victory last weekend, taking first place at the Eastern States Championships at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City on Saturday.

Led by James Phillips's third-place finish, the Cougars had 106 points to beat La Salle of New York's 122. Jefferson, the defending Virginia state champion currently ranked third in the Southeast Region by the Nike Team Nationals, finished third with 141. Oakton could give Jefferson a run at the Northern Region meet Nov. 3 at Burke Lake Park. The four district meets are slated Oct. 26 and 27 at Burke Lake.

Oakton's girls, ranked second in the Southeast Region, were second in the girls' "A" race, finishing with 82 points, behind Pope John (N.J.), which had 59. Lake Braddock was fourth (138) and Jefferson was fifth (159).

Special correspondent Sean P. Flynn contributed to this report.