It started in the spring of 1982 with 16 9-year-old girls from seven Northern Virginia elementary schools. More than eight years later, after seemingly endless van trips to weekend tournaments and early-morning matches on dew-covered fields, the Springfield Spirit soccer club is approaching the end of a long and wondrous journey.

All that remain are two matches in the under-19 division of the U.S. Youth Soccer Championships that will begin Thursday at Woodbridge High School. Two games. That's it. And the Spirit, playing in the oldest age group, will be no more.

National champions in 1988 as an under-16 club, the Spirit will play Blackburn United from the Atlanta area in an under-19 semifinal match Friday at 11 a.m. The Fairfield Raiders from Cincinnati will face the Pleasanton (Calif.) Pizzaz in the first game at 9 a.m.

The Spirit will try to become the first Washington area girls team to win the Athena Cup since its inception in 1980. The championship match, Sunday at 2 p.m., will follow the consolation game at 11 a.m.

Springfield's numbers are staggering: A record of 298 victories, 18 losses and 18 ties. Twelve losses were to older teams. Seven state titles, three regional titles and one national crown. The team has scored 1,204 goals (3.6 per game) and yielded 96 (0.3).

"I don't know if there's any team that can match that," said Coach Bill Rine, who works for the Inspector General's office in the Justice Department.

Twelve players remain from the club that defeated Plano, Tex., 2-0, to win the under-16 title on a 100-degree July afternoon two years ago at the German-Hungarian Club in Oakford, Pa. Over the years, 35 players have worn Spirit uniforms and seven have been there from the start.

"We started to think that this was going to be our last practice {today} and the last time we're going to play together," said defender Lisa Zemke, who, along with midfielders Liz Verdisco and Erin Riddle, will play at the University of Virginia this fall. "It's kind of sad."

Peggy Alessi, Julie DiRenzo and Jeanne Presgrave are off to William and Mary; Miriam Fagan and Kristie Kime will attend Maryland; Jon-nell Berry, Kerri O'Connell, and Carrie Proost will play at James Madison; Michelle Bertocchi (N.C. State), Kerry Page (Connecticut) and Sue Saunders (Duke) also are college-bound. Only Kristyn Woodside has another year of high school.

The Spirit will have only 13 players available if Alessi, a midfielder who hurt a knee in practice last week, cannot play. Kime hurt a knee during the high school season and is out.

"We hoped to be together for a long time," Rine said. "We got off to a good, strong start the first couple years and were able to maintain it. They're all successful soccer players. It would be nice to get two more wins for 300."

And another national title.