When McLean got past Fairfax, 5-1, in Liberty District softball action on March 30, it wasn't just the Highlanders who had reason to feel victorious.
After suffering through a winless 2011 campaign, Fairfax has jumped out to a 4-2 mark, with district wins against Langley and Thomas Jefferson.
First-year coach Matt Hoffert has the task of revitalizing the Rebels’ program, and he's starting with the little things. His team sports new uniforms and plays on a newly-manicured field. His roster has as many freshmen as seniors and as many sophomores as juniors.
On his coaching jacket, below Fairfax's "F" logo, are emblazoned the words "Rebel Pride" — indicative of the new attitude.
So far, it's producing results.
"We're a young team but we're a team full of kids who put in the work," Hoffert said. "We've been improving every day."
Fairfax's newfound mettle was demonstrated most clearly against McLean, last year's Northern Region runner-up. The Highlanders outscored the Rebels, 33-5, in their two 2011 games.
The Highlanders' bats came alive in the first inning as Erin Calpin, Maddie Moore and Allison Wilhelm produced RBI doubles for a quick five runs.
Inning for inning thereafter, the Rebels and Highlanders exchanged zeros as Fairfax's Caitlin Buchanan and McLean's Lauryn Hahne threw quality strikes from the circle.
Infield defense shined late for the Rebels, who turned a double play in the fifth, and flagged down a liner in the sixth to strand a Highlander on third.
The score remained 5-0 until Fairfax’s Kiana Sherlund slapped an infield single, stole second and came home on Rebecca Hall's single. A line-out double play ended the threat.
Hahne picked up the win, allowing just three hits. Buchanan scattered 10 hits while going the distance.
After complimenting his pitcher's performance, McLean coach Maurice Tawil acknowledged the stiffer competition the Rebels provided.
"That's the most improvement I've seen in this district in some time," he said. "They came out and battled today. I thought they played us tough."
Hoffert said he expects that kind of battling from his players as they develop the mentality needed to succeed.
"We're trying to make kids want to be a part of this program," he said. "Once you have that and you're proud of what you're doing and who you're with, the wins come after that."