It is Courtney Bures' job to raise the American flag before Stonewall Jackson home softball games and to take it down afterward for safe storage.

What better choice for the job than three-time All-Met Bures, not only because of her stature as a player, but because of her ambitions to one day represent the United States in the Olympics?

"Maybe if I do get on a national team then I'll be able to say there's a little bit more meaning to" the responsibility, said Bures, a shortstop (and frequent pitcher) who last summer tried out for the USA Softball Junior Women's National Team in Oregon. "But right now it's just kind of one of my jobs on the team."

Bures will have no flag to tend to this weekend at the Virginia AAA tournament in Newport News, but she hopes to have a state championship banner to hang when she returns to Manassas.

Top-ranked Stonewall Jackson (25-2) has lost in the state final the past two years and is itching for yet another shot at the title. To do so, the Raiders will first have to hand Richmond school Mills Godwin (23-0) its first loss in a semifinal at 5 p.m. today at Stoney Run Athletic Complex. Seventh-ranked Madison (24-4) will face Kempsville (19-2) at 7 p.m. in the other semifinal. The championship game is at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Bures, a Mississippi State signee who in the past has used an e-mail account with "Olympian" as part of the address, has an eye toward the 2008 Games in Beijing. She did not make the final cut last summer for the junior team, but she performed admirably and returned home an even more sophisticated player.

"I got to see how they play and what things they do differently," Bures said. "They don't do much different, [except] maybe they have a different work ethic than a lot of the teams and players around here. But they're taught the same stuff. Taking what [I] learned and taking it back to the team here I think has helped us out."

"You can tell she carries herself with a little more confidence now," said her father, Mike, a Stonewall assistant, who credits part of that maturation to his daughter playing last summer with Alabama pitcher Stephanie Van Brakle on the 18-and-under Shamrocks team that finished second at the ASA Gold Nationals. "She knows now that they look to her a little bit more."

When Bures was a sophomore, Tommy Orndorff -- coach of the Shamrocks and O'Connell's varsity team -- called her the most talented player from the Washington area since pitcher Michelle Collins, a three-time All-Met who graduated from Surrattsville in 1990.

Just as the Raiders look to the lead-by-example Bures for inspiration, the senior reads motivational books and taps into advice from players and coaches she admires. An upstairs hallway at the Bures home is lined with framed quotes. Books by Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt and softball great Dot Richardson have been bibles of a sort for her.

Bures might need to pool all those motivational sources for this weekend. The semifinal opponent is undefeated, and no Northern Virginia team has won a state softball title since Centreville knocked off Mills Godwin in 1995. Stonewall has lost in the final three times in eight years, with no crown to its credit.

"The girls here just follow her," Stonewall Jackson Coach Jason Koch said. "They know how good she is. If she says something, they believe her because of where she's been and what she's done and how good she is."