On its way to a state championship run this spring, Glenelg’s girls lacrosse team had more than its fair share of standout players. The Gladiators outscored the opposition 86-20, averaging less than four goals against per game in six postseason contests.
Yet, when it came to game changers — true breakout stars on the state’s biggest stage — no one stood out more than Glenelg junior midfielder Courtney Renehan.
“When I think of the athlete of the year, I think of someone who really impacted the outcome and that describes Courtney to a T,” said long-time Gladiators coach Ginger Kincaid. “The last couple weeks she just turned it on and did all the things that we knew she was capable of for a long time.”
Renehan was virtually un-guardable during Glenelg’s playoff run, totaling 14 goals and three assists.
Building on a solid regular season, she ended up finishing the year with 29 goals and nine assists, including 20 draw-control wins, 13 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers through 14 regular season games. Those stats, along with her being the x-factor in the Gladiators’ late-season surge, have earned the junior Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year honors.
“I think she’s just beginning,” Kincaid said. “I don’t even think she’s at the top of her game yet. She has no idea how much of a scoring threat (she is). Actually, I spent most of the season on her because she would pull up and not take the shot… She didn’t have the confidence to get inside and shoot and she was just really finding that confidence come at the end of the season. Once she realizes what she was capable of I don’t think anybody is going to be able to stop her.
“The thing she does that’s just incredible is how fast her footwork is. The term “ankle breaker” dodge — she is definitely the picture of that.”
Renehan admitted the biggest aspect of her game she has worked on is her confidence on the field. It helped having assistant coach Alex Pagnotta on the coaching staff when she came on as a freshman.
“He’s been my only lacrosse coach. He’s kind of seen me grow up and I give him all the credit,” Renehan said. “He knows me better than anybody. He knows my strengths and my weaknesses. I knew he’d be able to put up with me.”
Renehan has always been around the Gladiators program, as her older sister Kayla also played four years on varsity under the guidance of Kincaid and Pagnotta.
“Courtney is a funny kid. She is a part of a big family and so she kind of takes on that personality where she really likes being part of a team,” Kincaid said of Renehan, who has five siblings. “She’s really coachable and a really likable kid. We made her one of the captains this year, so she would start to take a little ownership for the team, because she is so quiet and I think that actually helped bring her out.”
Coming onto the team as a freshman, Renehan always showed the incredible ability to completely lose a defender one-on-one, but what she has gained through her couple years on the team is the confidence to take over a game.
“Even as a freshman she was really able to chew people out and to dodge in critical situations,” Kincaid said. “I think she’s just growing into her body control and once she can figure that out a little bit, I can’t even imagine what kind of player she’s going to be… She’s an unbelievable player, but I think she can reach even higher. There is so much more she can do.
“If you watch her play, it always amuses you how she lulls a defender, thinking she’s going to be at one speed — and then I’ll literally turn to the person next to me and say, ‘watch this,’ — she will just take off. That was kind of like her trademark. A defender will think they have her channeled and think they were containing her and then all of a sudden she’ll just take off.”
Renehan showed how disruptive she could be during the Gladiators’ most difficult matchup of the season against Marriotts Ridge in the 3A/2A South section I semifinal. The Mustangs had already gotten the best of Glenelg during the regular season just two weeks earlier, 9-7.
Marriotts Ridge had an abundance of talent and its only loss of the regular season came against McDonogh, which slated the Mustangs as favorites to head to the state final.
Heading into the matchup Renehan and the rest of the Gladiators felt if they could knock off the Mustangs and come out of the daunting 3A/2A South region, they’d have a great shot at a state title berth.
“I wish we could have played them in the state championship game, I think that would have been a crazy game,” Renehan said. “But I think whoever won our bracket in our division is usually the state champion, so once we beat Marriotts Ridge we thought we had a good chance. That’s how we all talked. Whoever wins the section can win states, or has the potential to win states and I think that’s how it is every year.”
Glenelg stormed out to an early 4-1 run and took an 8-3 lead into the half. Renehan started the surge and opened up with the game’s first goal, then assisted on the following score two minutes later. The Mustangs made a rally within three in the second half, but the Gladiators held on for the 11-7 win.
Renehan finished the game with two goals and three assists — leading her team in points on the day.
“Playing them gave me confidence throughout the playoffs,” Renehan said. “My team had confidence in me. We all look up to each other and praise each other. We were all hyped up, especially after beating Marriotts Ridge. We thought we could do it because Marriotts Ridge is the best team… getting that win felt awesome.”
After earning a region title in their following matchup against Atholton, defeating the Raiders 10-5, Glenelg had another tough re-match against C. Milton Wright in the state semifinal. The Gladiators had narrowly defeated the Mustangs early on in the season, but in their second outing against them it wasn’t quite as close.
“C. Milton Wright, when we first played them we won in the last three seconds. Alayna (Pagnotta) had the game-winning shot and after that first game we thought we would see C. Milton Wright again and we were all nervous for that game,” Renehan recalled. “We were so nervous and excited to play them again that we played so hard and that’s why we played the way we did that game.”
Led by Renehan’s five goals — two coming within the first 3 minutes and 38 seconds — the Gladiators steam-rolled C.M Wright, 15-3.
“I think everyone just had their best game that day and everyone came to play,” Renehan said. “Actually that game I didn’t feel anything, warm-ups or anything. I had no emotions. I didn’t think about anything, it was so weird. I ate a doughnut stick and just a cold potato that game. Everyone asked me what I ate.”
“The Marriotts Ridge (playoff) game she was definitely the difference,” Kincaid added. “If she wasn’t scoring, she was driving to goal and setting all the other players up — she had a lot of assists that game as well. She just topped it the next game and then came out very strong against C Milton Wright. They were on their heels from the very beginning of that game because of her taking it to goal very early and doing all the things she needs to do. I think she was the catalyst in those games.”
Glenelg needed one more win to clinch its first state championship since 2008 — and only the third title in the program’s 28-year history. And in dominating fashion, the Gladiators dismantled Oakdale en route to a 14-1 victory.
“Yes (I remember the 2008 team), they were champions. They were awesome. They were legends,” Renehan said. “Coming into the season we knew we had talent, but it was all a matter of working together and seeing what we have as a team. Everyone was just so excited, because no one thought we had a chance. In the beginning of the season, (everyone was talking about how) Marriotts Ridge is going to win and then we came out and played our game.”
The Gladiators showed their depth in the state-title victory, as 10 different players registered at least a goal or an assist. The Bears, with their attention focused on Renehan, had no answer to the variety of weapons Glenelg had on the field.
“I think that’s what it came down to in the end because even the teams that played her, they couldn’t come up with a strategy that was going to stop one player,” Kincaid said. “I do think that is what makes Courtney so special — her ability to make defenses have to play her hard. It opened up everything else for the other players.”
“I knew I had to step up and the team had to step up because we were playing for a championship and nothing less,” Renehan added. “I think we have so much talent and that’s just crazy. Even if one of our starters is hurt we know we can have someone replace them and we’ll still be fine and we have a huge team.”
The Gladiators graduate just four seniors from their state championship team. Renehan — who is committed to playing at the University of Maryland in 2018 — will lead an experienced Gladiators team next season as well.
“I definitely think we need to focus on the regular season. Everyone is going to be looking ahead to the state championship because we got it last year, but I think we need to take it game by game and practice hard just like we did last year,” she said. “My teammates push me. Whenever they get hyped, I get hyped. They motivate me and having coach Alex, he always tells me I can do this and I just try to make him happy.”
Atholton: 7-4 county, 10-5 overall
Centennial: 5-6, 6-9
Glenelg: 5-2, 17-3
Hammond: 4-7, 7-8
Howard: 5-2, 13-5
Long Reach: 1-7, 1-13
Marriotts Ridge: 7-0, 14-2
Mt. Hebron: 5-2, 11-5
Oakland Mills: 0-8, 1-12
Reservoir: 6-5, 7-6
River Hill: 4-7, 5-11
Wilde Lake: 3-5, 7-6
Glenelg Country School: 14-0, 20-0
Chapelgate: 6-7, 8-8