Annette Benjamin has had to take a step that not many players are asked to make during their high school basketball careers. The Hayfield senior forward, a reserve for the Hawks last season, is now looked to as her team's leader.

Benjamin has started to thrive in the role, as was evident by her performance in last night's 45-30 victory over host South Lakes. Benjamin had 16 points and eight rebounds, both game highs, to help improve the Hawks' record to 3-2.

"It's kind of a challenge to step up and play like this," Benjamin said. "Before, I've been used to falling in behind everyone. Now it's up to me, and there's a lot of pressure, but I think I'm getting used to it."

The game featured teams from different districts that are in similar situations. Hayfield, of the Patriot District, graduated seven players from last season's fourth-place team, which placed behind Lake Braddock, Robinson and West Springfield.

South Lakes has been a perennial contender in the Concorde District but lost six seniors--including four starters--from last season's 20-6 team. Coach Linda Jones, in her 10th year at South Lakes, has guided the Seahawks to seven district title games.

Last night's loss dropped the Seahawks to 1-4 this season.

"It's been a lot of tradition and positives at this school," Jones said. "There have been some low points, but it's mostly been positives.

The Seahawks' struggles mostly can be attributed to their lack of scorers. The Seahawks have a promising 6-foot-3 sophomore center in Latasha Ewell, who had seven blocks last night. But Ewell had only two points, and the team's leading scorer was junior forward Ashley Niday (seven points).

Hayfield entered the season wondering if it would have the same kind of problem. But not only has Benjamin emerged as the team's leading scorer, but two sophomores have contributed as well. Guard Sarah Placek had 10 points and four assists last night, and 6-3 center Mary Edwards had 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks.

Benjamin made five free throws and Placek made three baskets to help Hayfield to a 15-6 lead after the first quarter. The Hawks gradually expanded that lead, taking advantage of the Seahawks' inability to score in transition.

"This year is kind of like starting over again," Benjamin said. "Learning to dribble, and to post up. We have to get used to each other and our style. So it's like starting over, but I know we can get through it."