It was all green.
The walls, the volleyballs, the hallways that had been dressed with green streamers to make it look like a jungle. The pom-poms some fans tossed around.
The uniforms of the winning team — Atholton — as they screamed in the middle of the court, having just officially become the best team in Howard County.
“Winning this game will help us achieve everything else we want to achieve,” Atholton hitter Chanelle Smith said. “We just have to find it within ourselves to not break down and let them have the game, but to keep fighting for what we want.”
The No. 1 Raiders survived three toss-and-turn sets with Glenelg to sweep the No. 3 Gladiators 3-0, remaining unbeaten both in county (6-0) and overall (9-0).
But unlike many of the stomping Atholton victories this season, Tuesday’s triumph over Glenelg (5-1, 8-1) was so hard-fought that coach Larry Schofield would like to pit his girls against them again as soon as possible.
“We just beat a really good team and it took a good team to beat them,” he said. “I’d like to play them again in a scrimmage just to make us a little bit better.”
The Raiders made a clear statement from the first buzzer, as outside hitter Ryan Rorls popped a kill and an ace onto Glenelg’s court. Then down 2-0, the Gladiators responded with a spike from senior Madelyn Southern and an out-of-bounds called in favor of Glenelg to knot things up.
And so it went, the lead ricocheting back and forth — Atholton, Glenelg, Atholton, Glenelg. When Gladiators junior Lydia Stricker fired an ace, Raiders setter Sabrina Lagomarsino sent back a pair of her own.
“We heard a lot about them. We were all a little nervous and on edge,” Smith said.
As Glenelg seemingly began to pull away, 10-8, on the fists of junior Maddie Myers — who led the Gladiators with 12 kills, 13 digs and an ace — Atholton reeled them back in thanks to one of Smith’s first of many kills.
The junior hitter was third in points count, 11, following Rorls’ 19 and outside hitter Lisa Zoch’s 27.
Schofield couldn’t imagine a better scenario than that.
“I’ve got a bevy of hitters. Chanelle, very efficient in kills versus swings. Lisa gets a lot of swings,” he said.
The two squads ran neck and neck, right up to the last five points, tied 20-20.
Then, the Raiders ran off.
Led by another kill from Smith, Atholton earned five straight points to take the first set, 25-20.
“We did well with handling everything they gave us and pushing back,” Smith said.
If Glenelg had been deflated by dropping the first frame, though, they had a funny way of showing it. The Gladiators sprang to a 3-0 lead in set two, and then even when Smith brought the Raiders their first point, Glenelg added another four.
Soon, Atholton was experiencing a new feeling — trailing, by six points.
So they shook it off. A campaign of kills, followed by a pair of aces from Rorls — and an out of bounds call — evened things.
“I just keep telling them ‘Give me one more,’ ” Schofield said. “I don’t want them to overextend themselves. Give me one more good serve, one more good dig.”
Glenelg had slowed down; Atholton had a second wind.
Rorls shot another kill and an ace — sending the Raiders crowd off into a storm of gym-shaking cheers. Zoch had two of her own, and the Raiders had struck back, taking the second set.
“One more set!” the Raiders crowd cried. “One more set!”
To which the Gladiators side responded with a “Glenelg football! Glenelg football!”
But now on a 2-0 pace, the Raiders looked like they were in the left lane towards the sweep. If the first set had been a toss-up, and the second set a comeback, what else was left but a victory lap?
And at first, it looked like Atholton was right on track. On three kills and aces, the Raiders surged to a 7-1 lead of their own.
“I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win!” the Atholton crowed.
But this wasn’t just anybody. This was Glenelg.
The Gladiators had come in unbeaten for a reason.
“You can’t relax. Bend, not [break]. We got a big lead — I think they took their foot off the gas pedal a little bit,” Schofield said. “We let them back in and they came thundering back in.”
The Gladiators closed the gap, twice forcing the Raiders to lose the ball in the ceiling and then — thanks to Myers and Southern — managed to punch kills of their own.
Sarah Santiago and Haley Romsey each got a piece of the Glenelg resurgence as well. It was suddenly anyone’s game, 22-22.
So Smith broke the tie. She fired a kill, 23-22. Two moves later, 25-22, and the Raiders and their fans were flooding the court like they had won the state title all over again.
But they hadn’t. And Schofield knew it.
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“We still have a ways to go. We still have five matches. And none of these teams in Howard County can you take lightly,” he said. “We’ve got River Hill on Thursday. They all know each other, so it’s a bit of a rivalry. We’ve got Centennial still. … So those are things we have to be aware of.”