After getting off to a slow start -- by Gonzaga's lofty standards, anyway -- the Eagles' boys' soccer team has won four of its last five games, including a tie. As a result, the Eagles are in position to challenge top-ranked DeMatha for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship.

The only game during the unbeaten streak that junior goalkeeper Paul Benkert and the Eagles (7-4-2) didn't win was a hard-fought 2-2 tie with No. 2 Georgetown Prep on Sept. 24. The Eagles earned the result despite playing a man down for the final 35 minutes -- an accomplishment Gonzaga Coach Don Smith points to as the turning point of his team's season.

"Our goal all along has been to be ready for the last week of the season, in the playoffs," said Smith, whose team's three-year title reign in the WCAC ended with a loss to DeMatha last November on penalty kicks. "The regular season doesn't mean a whole lot in our league. Our four losses will help us later in the year because they all came against teams ranked in the top 50 nationally."

Leading the Eagles' resurgence has been striker Jimmy Carroll (team-high 15 goals) and the improved play of midfielders Peter McMurray, Pat Keane and Kieran Rice. Not to mention Benkert, who Smith said has almost single-handedly kept the Eagles in some matches.

Gonzaga defeated Ireton, 1-0, yesterday and plays the Stags in a rematch of last year's final on Oct. 15. . . .

Sidwell Friends defeated Metro Athletic Conference foe St. James, 4-0, on Friday to continue the undefeated Quakers' best start in boys' soccer in the past four years. Led by senior midfielder Allie Levey (team-leading five goals), Sidwell Friends (6-0-3, 4-0) defeated defending MAC champion St. Andrew's, 1-0, two weeks ago.

Westlake Breaks Out

In the waning days of September, Westlake was one of four unbeaten girls' soccer teams in Southern Maryland Athletic Conference play. Now, just over a week later, the Wolverines (5-3 overall, 5-0 SMAC) find themselves alone in first place after their 4-2 win over conference power Leonardtown last Friday.

Westlake's success can be attributed to a balanced attack that it was missing last season, when opposing teams were able to slow the Wolverines' offense by concentrating on stopping midfielder Thuy Le (16 goals, 10 assists in 2003). This season Le (eight goals) has had some help up front from junior Lauren Russell. Russell has 10 goals on the season, including all four of Westlake's strikes against Leonardtown.

"The girls needed something to show them that they can play with the quality teams," Westlake Coach Will Morris said of the victory over the Raiders. "Now they have to understand there's a target on their back."

Goal Support

Severn field hockey coach Jessica Burke is hoping her offense may have started a trend -- giving goalkeeper Jobi Manson a lead to protect.

The Admirals snapped out of their three-game scoring slump Tuesday when sophomore Ryan O'Malley put in the goal that beat Notre Dame Prep (ranked seventh in the Baltimore area by the Baltimore Sun).

"We've been kind of in a drought without a goal," said, Burke, whose team hadn't scored since a 1-1 tie with IAAM rival Spalding on Sept. 17. Ryan "hasn't been getting a ton of playing time, but anyone can do the job."

Before O'Malley's goal, Severn (3-5-1) had been relying on the play of Manson, who is one of the area's more aggressive goalkeepers and has had to be in recent games. She made 14 saves Tuesday and stopped 21 shots in Monday's 1-0 loss to defending league champion St. Paul's (ranked No. 2 by the Sun).

"Jobi's been coming up pretty huge for us the past few games," Burke said. "She's always telling [the defense] where they need to go because she sees thing the rest of the defense doesn't always see. Everyone's more comfortable knowing that she's back there."

Special correspondents Charlie Moss and Ashton Williams contributed to this report.