When Tracey Dahlen was 12 years old, her softball team lost a player, and Dahlen lost a position.

Dahlen had to move from center field to shortstop to replace her departed teammate. In order to make the move a smooth one, she asked her father to hit ground balls to her so she could get acclimated to the new position.

Now a junior at Chesapeake High, Dahlen has nearly mastered the position, which, after pitcher and catcher, is probably the most important on the field.

"Playing the shortstop position was a lot different," Dahlen said. "But I would never think of playing outfield again. I'm more into the game at shortstop. There is a lot more action and things going on."

Dahlen proved a sure hand for Chesapeake last season, finishing with a .922 fielding percentage with 59 putouts and five errors. "What Tracey brings is unbelievable range," Chesapeake Coach Don Ellenberger said. "She's just got a cannon for an arm."

Another area player who has excelled at shortstop is senior Moira Smith of Paul VI Catholic. Last season, Smith made only two errors as the Panthers advanced to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final.

Smith relishes in the responsibility and aggressiveness that shortstop requires.

"It's probably one of the most mentally tough positions," Smith said. "There are probably a million different circumstances as to what will happen next. That's what makes it interesting."

Said Paul VI Coach E.J. Thomas: "If you find the best athlete on a softball team, it's usually the shortstop. It is unlike any other position on the team because you're looking at someone that has to be probably the best fielder and fast. She's got to be tough, too, because she's got these runners coming at her. There's always a collision."

When selecting a shortstop, Oakton Coach Chris Jarboe said hitting and run production is second to the player's defensive prowess. "The shortstop is out there with the best overall view of the game," he said. "They lead the show. They must be the most knowledgeable. . . . From what I've seen, when a shortstop's fielding percentage goes up, the team's winning percentage goes up."

The Cougars feature one of the best shortstops in the Virginia AAA Northern Region area in sophomore Mandy Conlon. Last season, Conlon batted .353 and earned a spot on the all-Concorde District first team.

Moira Smith of Paul VI relishes in the responsibility that playing shortstop requires. "It's probably one of the most mentally tough positions."