Glenelg goalie Maddie McSally talks after the Gladiators capped the 2018 campaign with a 2A state title win over Hereford on May 23. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)
All season long, from the 1-2 start to the undefeated county record and even into Wednesday’s Class 2A state championship at Stevenson University in Owings Mills, Glenelg girls lacrosse followed a specific motto coach Alex Pagnotta came up with before the year: ownership.
“We wanted to go onto the field and we wanted to own every game,” senior goalkeeper Maddie McSally said. “We wanted to own every play.”
So, when Pagnotta was forced to use a timeout with his team knotted with Hereford and about 13 minutes to play in regulation, the Gladiators referred back to their buzzword. They needed to accept the blame for an adundance of turnovers and failure to grab 50/50 balls. They had to be accountable for allowing three second-half goals while managing just one attempt of their own up to that point.
Simply put, they had to own their mistakes and overcome them on the biggest stage, which was made bigger knowing a third straight state championship hung in the balance.
Glenelg by no means dominated play after the break — the game entered the last five minutes tied at five — but it did own the final and deciding goal. Emily Nalls netted the go-ahead strike on a free position opportunity with 4:48 to go, and from there the Gladiators passed the ball around the attacking zone to close out a 6-5 thriller and secure back-to-back-to-back state titles.
“Going into this year, people were doubting us a little bit, and I think we came into this season with a chip on our shoulder wanting to prove that this team is as good as any team that’s ever been through Glenelg,” said senior Anna Callahan, who added a goal and an assist. “I think this game really proved that. We ended our season with an exclamation mark.”
It was an uncharacteristic start to the season for Glenelg (17-2), which lost two of its first three games after going undefeated the year before. But those defeats to nationally ranked Notre Dame Prep and St. Stephen's & St. Agnes hardened this Gladiators group and prepared them for the rigors of county competition and likely another deep postseason run.
The result? Fifteen straight wins, including two over county rival Marriotts Ridge, and their third straight trip to the state championship game. They flourished in this position the previous two years, first beating Oakdale, 14-1, in 2016 and then crushing C. Milton Wright last season.
And early on, it seemed Wednesday’s game would play out in a similar fashion.
Sarah Cipolla (three goals) and Callahan both scored within the first five minutes, but turnovers and errant shots prevented the Gladiators from immediately breaking the game open. Hereford (17-3) also failed to score but was finding creases within the defense and challenging McSally. The Bulls’ defense also stiffened after giving up two quick strikes.
Glenelg added two goals before the break to enter halftime ahead, 4-0, but Hereford, the Baltimore County champions, were confident they could come back.
“We had some matchups that we weren’t sticking with at the beginning,” Hereford coach Anne Ensor said. “And I think once the girls got rid of the jitters — we have not been to this game since 2003, and Gleneg was here last year — so I think they got a jump on us early, and then once the girls settled in, it was a ball game.”
As Glenelg did to start the game, the Bulls controlled the opening draw of the second half, then immediately got an unassisted goal from Isabella Peterson, cutting the deficit to 4-2. About seven minutes later, another individual effort from Peterson resulted in the team’s third goal. Three minutes after that, Lindsay Clarke found Lily Cavallaro in front of the net, and Cavallaro finished the equalizer. Pagnotta had seen enough, opting to use a timeout.
But during these times of adversity, the Gladiators thought back to the black dog tags created before the season. The first two lines were “2018 Glenelg Girls Lacrosse” in all capital letters. Underneath read “Ownership.”
They accepted they had not played their best and persevered, and Wednesday night, that resilience was just enough to secure yet another state championship.