With his team trailing by two games at River Hill on Thursday, Glenelg coach Don Beall pulled his players aside for a quick history lesson.
The year was 2006, and Glenelg trailed River Hill, 2-0, before beating the odds to win in five sets.
"They were up 24-14 (in the third game) and we came back to beat them and then won," said Beall, whose 10th ranked team repeated the feat on Thursday to knock off No. 4 River Hill, 20-25, 24-26, 25-23, 26-24, 15-10.
"I brought that whole scenario up in the huddle and the kids responded and played looser those last three games," Beall said. "I told them "it's not over and you guys can do this, you're capable of it."
In the second set, Glenelg held leads of 10-6, 15-11 and 22-19, but couldn't finish. Then in the third set, the Gladiators raced to an 8-3 lead, before yielding to an 8-1 River Hill run, and eventually falling behind, 20-14, when it looked like the streak of futility would continue. But then Glenelg went on a 7-1 run of its own, punctuated by a Molly Calvert kill which ended a long rally, to tie things up at 21-21. That's when senior outside hitter Erin Jollota stepped up to take care of three of the last four points, on two kills and an ace for game point.
The two teams battled back and forth to seven ties in the fourth set, including at 24-24, before Calvert and junior Morgan Perry — a 2010 all-county first team selection — came up with back-to-back kills to force the fifth set.
The Hawks briefly held an 8-6 lead in the tiebreaker set, but then an 8-1 run by the Gladiators essentially put victory in hand.
After graduating the Howard County Player of the Year (Kristin Lee), along with four other starters, River Hill looks different from the 2011 team that was 13-0 in Howard County league play and advanced to the 3A state championship match.
But that didn't make the win any less sweet for Glenelg (3-0), which hadn't defeated the Hawks since that comeback win in 2006.
"This is definitely the biggest win I've ever had with Glenelg volleyball. It was a great comeback and it was great working together with the team," said Jollota, who finished with 16 kills, including four in the fifth set. "We know they lost a lot of players but River Hill is a great program and it's always been tough with them."
In fact, before the Gladiators prevailed in the third set on Thursday, River Hill (1-1) had won 12 sets in a row against Glenelg, dating back to 2009.
Perry led all players with 17 kills, and Calvert contributed nine kills and three point blocks, including the match winner.
"I've said from the beginning, this is a real special group and we really don't have any weaknesses," said Beall, whose team finished 11-2 in league play last year.
River Hill's two returning starters from 2011, Cassidy Davis and Sydni Horner, led the team on Thursday, with Davis recording 16 kills, and Horner collecting 28 digs. Taylor Thomas had 12 kills and three blocks for the Hawks.
In addition to all the losses to graduation, River Hill has already lost two starters to injury this season. Sierra Baker is out until at least October with a leg injury, and then Keana Richards went down with a sprained ankle in Tuesday's win over Wilde Lake, but could be back before the end of the month.
"We had one practice with a new lineup, and that's tough. The communication, you're trying to do the crosses so the deep hits are covered," coach Lynn Paynter said. "We're a young, inexperienced team on the court … but I think we can be up there. We have it, we just need to fill the holes."