The potential for the playoff pairing was well-known before the start of the season, and the even greater likelihood of it jumped off the Virginia AAA Northern Region field hockey tournament bracket sheet when the seedings came out.

Fairfax vs. South County. Again. The teams on Thursday afternoon at Washington-Lee will meet for the fourth consecutive postseason. Fairfax is trying to avoid it being for the fourth consecutive end-of-season.

Defending region champion South County has won the previous three playoff meetings, once in the quarterfinals and twice in the semifinals, all by one goal, including 2-1 in overtime in the semis last year.

So is this a desired opponent for Fairfax, or one the Rebels would rather dodge?

“This is my senior year,” said Rebels forward Shannon Cosgrove, a four-year varsity player, “and I definitely want to get them. It’s been frustrating every year.”

“You’d like to get past the one team holding you back every year,” said Fairfax Coach Amber Beaudoin, who was an All-Met forward for the Rebels in 1991 (then known as Amber Moshos). “It’s fun to have rivalries, but I don’t think it’s a real rivalry unless you beat the other team. We’re like a speed bump for them. We’d like to be more of a hurdle.”

Fairfax (19-1) and South County (16-5), each on an eight-game winning streak, play at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Westfield (18-2), with 16 straight wins, and West Springfield (16-3-1) meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, also at Washington-Lee.

The winners advance to Saturday’s region championship at 6 p.m. at W-L and also qualify for the state tournament that begins Tuesday. The Northern Region representatives will be paired with the Northwest Region in the first round of states.

Fairfax is trying to reach the region final for the first time since 1993. The Rebels beat T.C. Williams in the championship that year. South County has advanced to the region final in two of the past three seasons.

Despite the Stallions’ postseason domination over Fairfax, it is a true rivalry to some. Beaudoin coaches a youth league team that includes a 10-year old who is one of South County’s managers.

“You’re going to lose,” the girl declared recently.

Several years ago, the Rebels kept a stuffed monkey as a symbol of the monkey on their back when they played, and lost to, W.T. Woodson season after season. When Fairfax finally did beat the Cavaliers, the team burned the monkey.

For many Fairfax players, however, there is no such burden when it comes to South County. The Rebels start several sophomores, and those players have not experienced the annual postseason bow-outs against the Stallions.

So their approach might be different than that of Cosgrove or the two other four-year varsity players, midfielder Sam Zelenack and defender Grace Holman.

“I’m definitely going to tell [the sophomores] how much the game means to me and I bet Sam will, too,” Cosgrove said. “I will try to reach their hearts. I’m going to tell them to do it for us. We’ve had four years [losing] against them.”

The other region semi pits unfamiliar teams. West Springfield and Westfield have not met since the first round of the 2008 region tournament. Westfield, which won the region title in 2006 and was runner-up in 2008 and last season, has not lost to an area team this season.

“We definitely know that they’re the favorite to win, so our team is trying to keep it very positive,” said West Springfield senior Tasy Novopachennaia, her team’s leading scorer. “Anything can happen, our coach [Rosie Donaldson] keeps telling us.”