Forest Park senior hitter Alix Grimm has grown accustomed this season to staring up at Osbourn Park in state and local volleyball rankings and reading about the Yellow Jackets in newspapers.
But that doesn't mean she has to like it.
"We beat OP, and we have a better record than them," Grimm said Thursday night after a sweep at Hylton. "It's really frustrating sometimes, but we just [think], okay, we're just going to prove everybody wrong."
It's an odd position for the Bruins to be in, feeling as though they have something to prove to anyone. The county's marquee volleyball program since the school opened in 2000, Forest Park this fall has been overshadowed by Osbourn Park despite having swept the Yellow Jackets on Sept. 6, the teams' only regular season meeting.
Osbourn Park has played more teams from around the state than Forest Park and is atop the state volleyball coaches' rankings. The Bruins check in at fifth, perhaps because of lingering skepticism over the Bruins having lost two starters -- front-line players Sasha Bondje and Katie Goss -- to knee injuries early in the season.
Forest Park Coach Dan Jones, formerly the coach at Osbourn Park, believes the Yellow Jackets deserve the attention they've received.
"We were probably recognized after [beating OP] as the top team in the area, and I think we deserved that," Jones said. "But then we struggled the middle part of the season [with losses to Fauquier and Colonial Forge], so I think without the two players we lost, [observers thought] maybe they aren't the team that everyone thought they were.
"I think it took awhile for us just to find out who we were with that [new] group, rather than the group with the other two players. I think we're a team that you have to take notice of now."
Both Forest Park (15-2) and Osbourn Park (14-3) knocked off Douglas Freeman, the state's previous No. 1 team, last weekend at a four-team event in Richmond.
Forest Park's string of three straight state berths -- including the 2003 Virginia AAA title -- was snapped last season when the Bruins had to forfeit their Northwestern Region quarterfinal victory over Stonewall Jackson for using an academically ineligible player. If they are to return to states, it could well be at the expense of Osbourn Park, since the teams would likely meet in the region semifinals.
Hylton Coach Karen Mays, for one, steered clear of predicting a winner of that possible matchup.
"I tell you, they both are really consistent," she said. "They both have great ball control. To be honest with you, I really think it's a toss-up. . . . I wouldn't dare predict who I think is going to win because I respect both teams so much and they're both so talented."
Bondje, a senior, might return by the postseason, although Jones said he is not counting on it. Her availability would strengthen the already retailored team. Goss, a junior, will not return this season.
"I feel strong," Bondje said Thursday night. "I feel great. I run around. I jump and stuff."
Grimm, for one, is not surprised that the Bruins have been able to reinvent themselves on the fly after losing two key players.
"Even with Katie and Sasha on the court, we knew that we could all be subbed at any time because we have strong players on our bench," Grimm said. "I think it shows that we develop every player, not just the ones that start on the court."
Jones agreed: "The group that we have is pretty good, and we can accomplish a lot of our goals with that group. Maybe all of them."