Coming into the state semifinals, the Glenelg volleyball team had developed a reputation as a team that thrives in the fifth set, after playing four five-set matches this season and winning three of them.
But in Tuesday night's 3A state semifinals at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum, the Gladiators ran into a team with equal experience.
Damascus (16-2), which was 2-2 in five-set matches this season, ended Glenelg's season — 25-23, 20-25, 19-25, 25-21, 15-12.
"Our kids never quit, they fought, but once you have that momentum rise, especially in the fifth set, it's really hard to fight off," said first-year Glenelg coach Jason Monjes, whose team finishes the season 14-3. "Obviously we're short of what we wanted to do, but I'm really proud."
Glenelg has won four state titles, most recently in 2005. The Gladiators lost in the state finals in 2008 and the state semifinals in 2007.
On Tuesday night, Damascus — which has been to the state tournament four times, including a trip to the finals in 2006, but has never won a title — established early control, winning the first set, 25-23.
But Glenelg proved that it was not in over its head, racing to an 11-3 lead in the second set and cruising to a 25-20 win despite a late 7-0 Damascus run.
Glenelg senior captain Morgan Perry exploded for 11 kills and two blocks in that set, and finished with a match-high 26 kills and three blocks.
Now on even footing, the two powerhouse teams battled back and forth in the third set until Glenelg finally took control at 21-16 with a 6-2 run highlighted by two Sarah Girard kills and an ace.
"We were just working together and talking a lot and being positive with each other, and that's really important in volleyball," said Girard, who finished with 15 kills and four aces. "We just got the lead and the momentum carried us all the way."
With its back against the wall, Damascus built an early 6-2 lead in the fourth set. But determined to not see a fifth set, Glenelg rallied to cut the Hornets' lead to 22-21. However, Damascus closed the door with a 3-0 run highlighted by an Annika Schwartz kill to send it to the fifth set. Schwartz finished with a team-high 21 kills.
"We said don't settle, and we have expectations for ourselves and we knew that in the second and third games we let those expectations slip," said Damascus coach Rebecca Ronquillo. "We weren't going to settle, this was not going to be our last stop."
The Hornets' momentum carried over to the fifth set, where they built an early 6-3 lead. But Glenelg rallied to tie it at 7-7, then took a commanding 10-8 lead on a Molly Calvert point block.
"It's always nice to be up in the fifth set, especially when it gets so close to 15. We had momentum, we felt good, we thought we could close it out, but they made a couple of good plays to tie it up quick. We definitely weren't cocky about it," Perry said. "We play pretty well in the fifth set so we thought we had a better chance."
Glenelg again went ahead 11-10 on a Damascus hitting error. But that lead gave way to a 3-0 Damascus run on a Schwartz kill, an ace by setter Carly Marella and a Glenelg error at the net.
After Perry's final kill cut the Damascus lead to 13-12, two Gladiator hitting errors ultimately ended the match and Glenelg's state championship bid.
"The girls always pulled it together ... I told them 'I want you guys to be proud of your accomplishments, and always remember that you play hard and you leave it all on the court no matter what'," Monjes said. "Whatever happens you'll never have a regret if you play as hard as you can."
Damascus advanced to play the winner of Bel Air and LaPlata Saturday evening.
Both coaches agreed that Tuesday night's match featured two of the best teams in the state.
"They fought for points just like my girls fight for everything," Ronquillo said. "They had a very strong team and we knew that they wanted it almost as bad as we did."