Going into Thursday's showdown of undefeated teams at Centennial, Glenelg volleyball coach Don Beall had heard whispers around Howard County that the Eagles' traditionally ironclad defense was not as strong this year. But without any firsthand experience, he just had to wait and see for himself.
After Centennial's 25-14, 25-16, 25-21 win, Beall could form his own opinion.
"What I heard was that their defense was their weakest spot," Beall said. "[But] we got tons of ins that they were playing up … give them all the credit in the world. I think they're the top team in the county right now."
Glenelg built a 20-17 lead in the third set on three consecutive aces by freshman libero Rachael Girard, but Centennial closed out the match on an 8-1 run, capped by Trisha Mockapetris' kill.
Neither team relied on any one player, but Centennial (3-0) was led by Kristen Ritchie (8 kills, 12 digs) and Mockapetris (6 kills, 13 digs). Junior libero Cara Walsh added 11 digs.
"We were diving for everything," Ritchie said. "They got some kills on us, and they deserved them because they were really good hits, but we learned from it and we stopped them."
Glenelg (3-1) was led offensively by Morgan Perry and Erin Jollota, who were held to six kills each.
Sophomore Meghan Kelley chipped in seven kills for Centennial, but on Thursday, the Eagles' team defense was the star.
"We didn't let them get on too many runs. … You win the small runs and you're going to win the match," coach Larry Schofield said. "That's a good team. … Winning countys is going to be pretty tough. There are six teams that can vie for it right now, and that's one of them right there."
After Thursday's action, Atholton and Centennial are the last undefeated teams in Howard County. They were scheduled to play Sept. 18, but the match was postponed until Monday, because of a tornado warning.
Last season, Glenelg defeated Centennial, 3-1. A week earlier, Centennial had lost to Atholton, ending a 49-match league winning streak. The Eagles finished the regular season 10-3 and lost to county champion River Hill in the regional semifinals.
It was a down year for the 14-time state champions by all accounts, but Centennial is eager to win back its crown.
"We have a really strong team and everyone is really versatile," Ritchie said. "We're ready to move on and become a better team and go to states."
Around the league
Atholton defeated Wilde Lake, in five sets (25-11, 15-25, 18-25, 25-20, 15-12).
Kelly Surkovich had 15 kills for the Wildecats.
River Hill swept Reservoir, 25-15, 25-22, 25-14
"We're not firing on all cylinders yet, but we're going to get there," Reservoir coach Carole Ferrante said.
Oakland Mills defeated Hammond, 3-1 (23-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-22) for the first time in more than five seasons.
Raven Blount led the way for the Scorpions with 20 digs, 5 aces, 3 kills and a block playing outside hitter for the first time. Heidi Larsen kept the team on pace with 12 digs and 19 assists and Marilyn Steyert had three kills and several long service runs.
"It was truly a team effort," coach Dan Tucci said.