Despite being only a junior, Kristin Kruse has been involved in some tough volleyball competition. A three-year veteran of Northern High's varsity, Kruse led the '89 Patriots to a second-place finish in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference and a regional appearance. The '90 Patriots (8-0) have defeated perennial powerhouse McDonough and are in first place in SMAC with five games remaining.

The 5-foot-11 center-middle hitter uses her height to its best advantage during net rushes and blocks. Kruse leads the Patriots with 63 kills and 18 aces. She also tops the team in serves at 91 percent and setting at 93 percent. Under first-year coach Cheryl Lord, Kruse, 16, has changed roles from hitter to setter. "Setting is very challenging for me," she said. "If you don't have a good set, you can't have a good hit."

As a four-year veteran of Club Capital in Rockville, Kruse has played tough West Coast competition. By observing solid players, Kruse has learned to watch both the ball and the players when placing her shots. But she admits there are no shortcuts or tricks of the trade in being a good volleyball player. "There are no secrets that I know of," she said. "Other than hard work and lots of practice."