Fairfax goalkeeper Joe Rice’s value was on full display in a 3-1 win over Lee last week, which kept the Rebels within striking distance of first place in the Virginia Conference 6. Rice recorded 17 saves, which was the same number of stops he had in his first two games combined. He also recorded an assist – and handled a majority of the set pieces for Fairfax, which not only relies on his stony nature in goal but also his touch on kicks in the field.

“He’s the best high school goalkeeper I’ve ever seen play, so we’re very spoiled. We count on him in the back,” Fairfax Coach Kelly Lusk said. “We’re able to do a lot of things that you don’t usually see in high school soccer because of him.”

Headed to VCU next fall, Rice’s development has been central to Fairfax’s rebuilding effort over the last several seasons. Three years ago, the Rebels went 0-11-1; Rice started the next two seasons in net and helped Fairfax win five games in each, with a breakthrough Liberty District shutout win over McLean and an appearance in the Northern Region playoffs.

That brought considerable experience to a program that has not been traditionally dominant. And now Lusk has nine seniors to lead the team even further this season, supplemented by 11 juniors that should provide the foundation for next season.

Fairfax (4-2) has been seeing results with that balanced roster so far this season. A year after the team scored just three goals in the month of April, Fairfax has already posted nine this season – with junior Marvin Tapia (three goals, two assists) and senior Brandon Bauer (one goal, five assists) leading the charge offensively.

And of course there’s Rice, who has helped offensively in more ways than one. At 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, Rice is one of the team’s best athletes – and the VCU commit has become more polished after a strict offseason regimen. That included hours of ladder footwork drills to provide a more explosive first step in goal and steady weight lifting to build his upper body, which has helped with his movement in the air and on the ground.

“I notice the differences all the time,” Rice said. “I definitely needed to get the speed back in...I think the training has definitely paid off.”

Rice has already been awarded with three “Man of the Match” awards, which Lusk gives to the most valuable player after each game. That included his performance in a 1-0 loss to Langley earlier this month, which Rice said was a pivotal game for team’s season.

“We definitely have the kids now to bring us further than we ever could,” Rice said. “Fairfax hasn’t really had the best reputation with soccer, and I think this year we can change their minds about that.”

Briar Woods poised for a run

After winning 15 games and making a dramatic run to the Virginia AA state semifinals last spring, Briar Woods is in position to make another late-season push behind a veteran cast of players. The Falcons (5-0) are led by Virginia Tech recruit Collin Verfuth, a second-team All-Met a year ago who has become even more productive as a senior.

The length and range of the 6-foot-2 Verfuth at the defensive center-mid position make him one of the area’s most dangerous players; he provides stablity in the middle of the field for the Falcons but has also become more comforable with scoring opportunities — which has led to five goals and one assist through five matches this season.

“I’ve been trying have the same role playing, starting mainly defensively,” Verfuth said, “but also working up top to try and put some goals in.”

The Falcons have plenty of talent capable of striking alongside Verfuth, with sophomore Milo Quinn (five goals), junior Ckameron Azizsired (four assists and game-winning goal against Millbrook) and junior midfielder Daniel Zeitoun, who has already tallied five assists for a team that has scored three or more goals in each of its games.

Verfuth said that most of the players on the team have been playing with traveling teams on the weekend, which can mean up to six games a week. The spring break has been a relief for sore legs, and Briar Woods is gearing up for its toughest task of the season when it returns to the pitch next week. The Falcons will meet three of the county’s best teams on three consecutive nights: No. 2 Tuscarora (7-0), Broad Run (7-1) and Loudoun County (4-1).

The Post Top 10

Tuscarora (Va.) has been without star forward Sergio Resendiz due to a hamstring injury but kept rolling with a 5-0 win over Loudoun Valley last week. The Huskies have recorded shutouts in their last four games and have outscored opponents 24-2 this season.... T.C. Williams continued its blistering start with a 4-1 win over West Potomac, and the Titans have now scored 19 goals in six wins.... After beating Colonial Forge 2-1 in overtime courtesy of Lewis Long’s game-winning goal, Forest Park earned a scoreless draw against rival Osbourn Park last Friday behind a clean sheet performance from goalkeeper C.J. Chambers.

1. Oakton (6-1-1) LW: 1

2. Tuscarora (Va.) (7-0) LW: 2

3. West Springfield (5-1) LW: 4

4. Yorktown (6-1) LW: 6

5. Chantilly (3-2) LW: 5

6. Briar Woods (5-0) LW: 7

7. T.C. Williams (6-0) LW: 9

8. Battlefield(4-1) LW:8

9. Forest Park (4-1-1) LW: 10

10. Washington-Lee (6-0-1) LW: NR

Off: Mount Vernon (1-1-3) LW: 3

Bubble: Broad Run (7-1), Annandale (5-1-1)