In the four years that Potomac spent in the Cedar Run District, the boys' basketball team won four district regular season titles and three district tournament titles, and the Potomac girls won either the regular season or tournament crown all four years.

Something will have to give this season, which tips off tomorrow with the first day of practice. Just as the Panthers' boys and girls, now back in the Cardinal District, each went unbeaten last year in the Cedar Run, the Gar-Field boys and Forest Park girls did likewise in winning Cardinal championships.

Translation: It will be harder for everyone in the district -- Forest Park, Freedom, Gar-Field, Hylton, Potomac and Woodbridge -- to earn one of the two berths into the Northwestern Region tournament.

"It's not going to be a tiptoe through the tulips," Gar-Field boys' coach Andy Gray said. "We had five good teams without [Potomac], and we'll have six with them."

"What it means is you can have at least one very good team, and probably two or three, that don't go on to regionals that perhaps could win some of the other districts in our region," Potomac boys' coach Kendall Hayes said.

In another Cardinal change this winter, the district regular season champion -- not the district tournament champion -- will be the No. 1 seed in the region tournament, although the district tournament winner will be crowned as district champion.

The Potomac boys have won 52 straight regular season games and have reached the Virginia AAA tournament eight of the past 11 years. The past two seasons, the Panthers have gone unbeaten until states, losing to Woodside in the championship in 2004 and to Landstown in the quarterfinals in 2005.

Hayes, entering his 21st season, said he is contemplating stepping down after this one so he can follow his son's college career. Senior guard Eric Hayes signed with Maryland this week.

In the Cardinal, Potomac's main boys' competition might come from Gar-Field, led by returning senior guard Calvin Booth, the reigning district player of the year. The Indians, who will host an Australian touring team Jan. 7, have reached three of the past five state tournaments. Hylton has qualified for regionals the past two years.

The Cardinal surprise of last season was first-year program Freedom, which won nine of its last 10 regular season games to finish 15-8. That success bucked the trend of recent first-year programs in the area. Hylton went 0-18 in 1991-92, Forest Park went 7-15 in 2000-01 and Battlefield went 0-22 last year.

Eric Hayes is one of three big-time Division I recruits in the Cardinal, along with Forest Park girls' guards Monica Wright (Virginia) and Ashleigh Braxton (Pitt).

The Bruins, 76-11 the past three seasons, had a chance last winter to become the second Virginia AAA girls' team in 21 years to win back-to-back state titles. But Forest Park got outscored 26-4 -- coincidentally, that was the Bruins' final record -- to end the game in a 59-52 loss to Princess Anne in the state championship. Forest Park led by 15 in the third quarter and had won 26 straight games, including one over Princess Anne in late December.

Other than Wright, Braxton and sophomore guard Deidre Richardson, the Bruins will be relatively unproven, with as many as five freshmen expected to make the varsity team.

"It's getting them to understand it's not middle school and AAU," Forest Park Coach Chrissy Kelly said. "We're trying to play on a national level now. It's figuring out how to get all the other kids returning and the new kids joining us on the same page and develop the same mentality and philosophy that Monica and Ashleigh and Deidre have."

Several freshmen flourished on area girls' teams last year, and the two most prominent -- Potomac post player Lynetta Kizer and Hylton guard Ariana Moorer, both all-Northwestern Region picks -- are playing for new coaches this season.

Former Woodbridge assistant Mike Wilson, part of a Vikings program that during his tenure went 112-46 with two state tournament trips, has taken over at Potomac, replacing Mike Adkins.

The Panthers (20-7) last season reached the state tournament for the first time since 1987, but now in the Cardinal, they face more obstacles to reach the playoffs. They have lost six straight to Forest Park, six of the last eight to Hylton and six of the last seven to Woodbridge.

The new Hylton girls' coach is 1997 Gar-Field graduate Emily Faught, who played on high school teams that lost eight games during her career. She replaces Melvin Smith, now an assistant with the Bulldogs' boys' team. Hylton's girls went 15-7 last year and lost only one senior, a reserve.

With Potomac gone, the Cedar Run is now wide open, with Culpeper and Fauquier joining Battlefield, Osbourn, Osbourn Park and Stonewall Jackson. The top returning boys' player is Stonewall junior guard Derick Johnson, who is receiving a lot of Division I college attention, according to Raiders Coach Marcus Lawrence, who also is encouraged by the shooting touch of senior Vigan Godeni, who moved here from Kosovo toward the end of last school year.

The boys' team, other than Potomac, that emerged from the Cedar Run in 2004-05 was Osbourn Park, which went 15-10 under first-year coach Bob Lake and reached regionals for the first time since the early 1980s. The Yellow Jackets must replace their top three scorers.

The Cedar Run girls' title is even more up for grabs, given the track records of the returning schools. Osbourn finished 10-14 last year, its most wins since 1996-97, and Osbourn Park reached regionals for the third straight year.

Gar-Field is led by returning senior guard Calvin Booth, the reigning district player of the year.