It was May 3, 2016, and Glenelg girls lacrosse had dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of. The Gladiators allowed Marriotts Ridge to get out to an 8-2 lead early in the second half, and, despite coming within a goal in the final minutes, could never pull even in their eventual 9-7 loss.
The Mustangs, who remained undefeated in league play with the win, went on to secure the program’s first county title since 2013.
Glenelg finished in a three-way tie for second.
But in the 22 months since that loss to Marriotts Ridge, Glenelg has knocked off every county and state foe in its path. They closed the 2016 campaign with a comfortable win in the regular season finale and then rolled through the postseason, rattling off six straight victories to claim its third-ever state title and first since 2008. And its dominance did not stop there. Having lost just four players from that state championship squad, the Gladiators emerged as one of the nation’s top teams by way of finishing the season undefeated and claiming their second consecutive 3A/2A state crown.
Their winning streak sits at 27 games entering the 2018 season, which is set to begin Wednesday.
Accomplishing a three-peat may be more difficult, given Glenelg lost significant contributors from their state championship squads, but the Gladiators return seven starters who expect nothing less than to make another run to the state championship.
“The girls know where they need to be coming into the program,” said Nicole Trunzo, who replaced Ginger Kincaid as the head coach last season after Kincaid spent 29 years with the program. “It’s a lot of pressure, but they work hard in the offseason: they play all year-round, they train, they run, they lift, they work on their speed. And I think it’s just an expected thing. It’s an expectation for themselves and their classes to kind of fill the shoes of the graduating class.
“Last year, we had some really good seniors,” Trunzo added, “but this is a talented group.”
For starters, Glenelg graduated midfielder Courtney Renehan, a two-time Howard County Times girls lacrosse Player of the Year and Under-Armour All-American who now plays at the University of Maryland. Attackers Lindsay LeTellier, who led the county in points (107) and assists (74), and Alayna Pagnotta, the league’s leading goal scorer (64), are also gone, as is defender Caroline Kwon.
All three were first-team All-County selections last spring, while Pagnotta (Mount St. Mary's) and Kwon (Navy) are currently playing at the Division I level.
However, the Gladiators do bring back two first-team All-County players in Anna Callahan (midfield) and Maddie McSally (goalie) and two second-team performers in senior Georgia Esmond (attack) and junior Emily Nalls (defense).
There’s also senior attackers Maddy O’Brien and Rachel Scheinberg, who are committed to play collegiately at George Washington and Johns Hopkins, respectively.
Throughout the preseason, Trunzo said these upperclassman have been instrumental in preparing the younger varsity players, who may lack experience but are well conditioned and quick learners.
“Maddie [McSally] is awesome leading the team with her communication, and it’s just nice to have someone solid like that in goal,” Trunzo said. “They’re all positive, they’re strong, and Anna [Callahan] is super fast and super intense. They all have their great characteristics — very different — but then they mesh well along with the team really well.”
The widespread consensus among county coaches is that Marriotts Ridge will again be the main contender to challenge Glenelg for the county title. The Mustangs open the season ranked No. 17 in US Lacrosse Magazine’s national preseason rankings, five spots behind the Gladiators. They also welcome back multiple All-County players from a team whose only losses last season came to Glenelg — once in the regular season and again in the regional semifinals — and private school powerhouses McDonogh and Notre Dame Prep.
Coach Amanda Brady said her team will be led by her former All-County trio of seniors Hayleigh Simpson (midfield) and Shay Clevenger (defense) and junior Victoria Hensh (attack).
“All three of them are no nonsense, all business. In the leadership role, they each bring something a little bit different,” Brady said. “We’ve always had good leaders, but these three, they’re a really special bunch.”
Simpson will serve as a role model due to her work ethic, as Brady said she “literally goes 120 percent all the time.” Clevenger will be more of the vocal leader and Hensh will constantly push herself and teammates to improve.
Other players to look out for are sophomore attacker Elle Clevenger, junior goalkeeper Olivia Ranta and senior defender Sydney Bender, but there are playmakers all over the field. Marriotts Ridge currently has 11 Division-I women’s lacrosse commits.
“The strength is going to be that team chemistry and their ability to work hard together,” Brady added. “Offensively, we’re returning a lot of experience, so I certainly see most of them connecting with one another. We certainly have a ways to go for sure being that it’s preseason, but that’s kind of a comfort for us knowing that we have experience down on the offensive end.”
Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge have dominated the 3A/2A division in recent years, winning five of the past seven state titles. They will continue to battle for championships going forward, even after the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association increased the number of state championships from three to four, one for each classification. Both teams will compete in the 2A South region.
As for the county hierarchy, the Gladiators and Mustangs are in the top tier along with Howard and Centennial.
The Lions, who finished 10-6 overall last season, will play for first-year coach Katelyn Joyce and feature a strong but young midfield and a deep defensive unit. On the offensive end, Jamie Tsao and Jess Vetter return after combining to score 52 goals a year ago.
The Eagles were in the middle tier last season but moved up thanks to a regular season win over Howard, which helped them finish third in the county at 8-3, and a postseason victory against Mt. Hebron. Third-year coach Bethany Cunha will again have first-team All-County midfielder Claudia Pilcher taking draws and sophomore Sarah Thorman in goal after a “breakout season” as a freshman.
Centennial’s success pushed Mt. Hebron down to the middle tier, which coaches believe should be competitive between the Vikings, River Hill, Reservoir and Atholton.
Mt. Hebron and River Hill will lean on their experience. The Vikings have seniors in the starting midfield — Erin Demek and Kaitlin Rice — and along the backline with Annie Ryan and Julia Leishear. Up top, junior attacker Ellie Miller will be the focal point.
For the Hawks, first-year head coach and Atholton graduate Amy Weinberg has the luxury of taking over a squad with 11 seniors and nine returning starters. That includes attacker Gaby Hamburger, the team’s leading scorer and a second-team All-County selection in 2017.
“Last year only had a couple of girls scoring, this year our scoring will be more spread out with different offensive threats,” said Weinberg, who served as an assistant under Jay Bond last season. “We return experienced players on defense. We are hoping for big defensive stops, and having that trickle on to our offensive end.”
Reservoir and Atholton also have impactful upperclassmen but will rely on several younger players as they look to finish in the top half of the league standings.
Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, Hammond and Long Reach make up the lower tier, with the latter two programs also undergoing coaching changes. Kevin Broadus replaced Lightning coach Amanda Durso, while longtime Golden Bears assistant Lindsay Kolesar took over for Bill Smith.
Meanwhile, Oakland Mills’ Davia Williams and Wilde Lake’s Michael Rhodovi are in their third season at their respective schools and have both seen participation and development increase during their tenures.
“These girls are coming to play for us because they have pride in their school and want to continue to build the program,” Williams said. “I give all of the credit to our returners going out and recruiting players. Last year we had 29 girls in our entire program. This year we will have 25 girls on varsity alone, with 23 on JV.”
Glenelg Country eyes conference crown
Glenelg Country entered last season knowing it would no longer dominate league competition. After winning 30 of their 31 conference games and back-to-back IAAM B Conference titles the previous two years, the Dragons moved into the “A” division, where they would compete with national powerhouses McDonogh and Notre Dame Prep.
But the uptick in competition did little to hinder their overall success. They suffered double-digit losses to the aforementioned programs during the regular season but finished the year in fourth place with an 8-4 confence mark. Then they advanced to the league semifinals, where they again fell to McDonogh, but only by a score of 12-7.
Glenelg Country has even greater expectations for the 2018 campaign, and the Dragons showed the country their potential in their season opener March 13. Down, 5-0, in the first half against Notre Dame Prep, they not only erased that deficit but went on to secure a 10-9 victory.
Glenelg Country is currently No. 2 behind McDonogh in The Baltimore Sun’s Top 15 preseason girls lacrosse poll.
“I thought if we played hard, we played our game, then we had a really good chance to keep it close and maybe get a win,” assistant coach Brian Reese said. “But you’re playing against the No. 5 ranked team in the country and we’re unranked still, so I think we surprised a lot of people.”
The Dragons will rely heavily on their midfield, which includes 2017 All-County selections Shay Ahearn and Hannah Glaros and became even stronger with the addition of Leonardtown transfer Kate Sites. They also return senior attacker Bobbie Haney and goalkeeper Avery Dyer.
The result is a balanced unit determined to improve on last year’s solid finish.
“The sky is the limit really,” Reese said. “We really control our own destiny. If we’re going to work hard on the things we need to work at, we can be really, really good.”
Around the League
A look at all 14 local teams entering the 2018 season:
2017 record: 4-7 county, 4-11 overall
Coach: Laura Foerster (first year)
Key players: Seniors Ally Merwitz (D) and Christianna Kelley (MF); juniors Brooke Merwitz (A) and Ella Farris (MF); sophomore Olivia Chory (MF).
Coach’s report: “Team strength is the ability to focus on execution of the basics. If we can master that, the rest will fall into place and we can go from there.”
2017 record: 8-3, 10-6
Coach: Bethany Cunha
Key players: Seniors Claudia Pilcher (MF) and Julia Grable (A); junior Marissa Lagera (MF); sophomore Sarah Thorman (GK).
Coach’s report: “We had a turnaround season last year, going from sixth in the county in 2016 to third in the county last year after upsetting Howard during regular season and defeating Mt. Hebron in the regional semifinals. As a result, we were bumped into “Tier 1,” the highest bracket of [county] competition for the 2018 season and will be playing the best of the best from Howard and Anne Arundel counties. We consider ourselves the “dark horse” in this race, and although we know of the challenge we face, we remain optimistic about playing good, solid lacrosse with nothing to lose against great teams.”
2017 record: 7-0, 20-0 (county and 3A/2A state champion)
Coach: Nicole Trunzo
Key players: Seniors Maddie McSally (GK), Anna Callahan (MF), Georgia Esmond (A) and Maddy O’Brien (A); junior Emily Nalls (D).
Coach’s report: “We do have girls who are back who were on varsity last year, but with the strong class that we had, they didn’t have a lot of experience in the games, so we’re kind of just working on getting them game experience.”
2017 record: 2-5, 7-7
Coach: Lindsay Kolesar
Key players: Seniors Rachel Hall (A) and Rachel McClanahan (MF); sophomore Abby Richards (D); freshman Jessica Williamson (MF).
Coach’s report: “We have a fantastic group of young women who are leaders both on and off the field. We take pride in working together as a team to create a positive experience for each player. We have several returning players who we are expecting to come up big in the midfield and put some points on the board each game.”
2017 record: 4-3, 10-6
Coach: Katelyn Joyce (first year)
Key players: Seniors Zoe Summa (A) and Jess Vetter (MF/D); junior Jamie Tsao (A); freshmen Rachel Murphy (GK) and Ellie Wiechert (MF).
Coach’s report: “I think our team’s strength is our midfield. It’s a very young midfield, but they have incredibly good field sense and ability to transition the ball. We also have a very deep defensive unit.”
2017 record: 1-6, 2-10
Coach: Kevin Broadus
Key players: Junior Erin O’Reilly (A), Angelina Casserly (MF), Valerie Haney (MF) and Dumebi Adigwe (MF); sophomore Lindsey Smith (A).
Coach’s report: “We are spending a lot of time on defense and hopefully this will lead to fast breaks. We are trying to be more effective with the fundamentals of the game.”
2017 record: 6-1, 13-4
Coach: Amanda Brady
Key players: Seniors Hayleigh Simpson (MF) and Shay Clevenger (D); junior Victoria Hensh (A); sophomore Elle Clevenger (A).
Coach’s report: “Our strength is going to be our leadership. The fact that we have Olivia Ranta returning in goal. And Shay [Clevenger] being vocal and having an extremely high lacrosse IQ. Her ability to read situations, anticipate and make decisions on the field is really top notch.”
2017 record: 4-3, 9-6
Coach: Lindsay Menton
Key players: Seniors Erin Demek (MF), Kaitlin Rice (MF), Julia Leishear (D) and Annie Ryan (D); junior Ellie Miller (A).
Coach’s report: “This season I think we will benefit from the large senior class that we have. We have a strong group of returners on defense along with a lot of new talent on attack, which should enhance our play.”
2017 record: 0-7, 2-12
Coach: Davia Williams
Key players: Seniors Kelly Claxton (A) and Brynn Rhodes (D); juniors Hannah Smelkinson (A), Peyton Gomes (MF), Kerri Mills (D) and Kerry Browne (MF).
Coach’s report: “I think experience will play a big part in our success. We have a ton of girls who have played their whole high school career who are already helping the new players learn the game. The players have done a great job in the offseason with practicing and preparing for the season.”
2017 record: 6-5, 7-8
Coach: Pamela Harrison
Key players: Senior Elena Martino (MF); juniors Annabelle Salkeld (D) and Riley Geraghty (D); sophomore Sarah Nam (MF/D); freshman Savanna Hill (A).
Coach’s report: “We are a young team this year with many new players. Our speed and resilience could be our greatest asset until we develop into a cohesive unit on attack and defense.”
2017 record: 5-6, 6-7
Coach: Amy Weinberg (first year)
Key players: Seniors Gaby Hamburger (A), Gracie Seybold (MF) and Megan Kinner (D); junior Lexi Thielemann (MF); freshman Lindsey Miller (MF).
Coach’s report: “Our team strength will come from our 11 seniors this year. We have nine of our starters returning … including Gaby Hamburger, our top scorer from last season. Midfield will be our biggest strength, gaining possession quick off the draw and being able to sufficiently execute on the attacking end.”
2017 record: 3-4, 7-7
Coach: Michael Rhodovi
Key players: Seniors Maddie Ives (A), Katie Aubin (MF), Nicole Blair (D) and Elana Orzach (D); junior Autumn Weinig (D).
Coach’s report: “We're having a lot of fun and putting the work in as well. It has allowed us to grow as a program by encouraging a lot of first-time players to come out. That led to an increase of depth at positions where there had been none before, as many of these first-timers just happen to be highly skilled natural athletes from other sports. Fun also has provided consistency, as well as through that newfound depth, we have more and more players across all grades and have also branched into the middle schools as well.”
2017 record: 8-4 IAAM A Conference, 15-5
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Coach: Paige Walton
Key players: Seniors Hannah Glaros (MF), Bobbie Haney (A) and Sarah Ayer (MF); juniors Shay Ahearn (MF), Kate Sites (MF) and Avery Dyer (GK).
Coach’s report (assistant coach Brian Reese): “When we play our game well, we have a chance to be really, really special. That’s kind of our focus right now.”
2017 record: 4-9 IAAM C Conference, 4-11
Coach: Judie Puckett
Key players: Juniors Molly Donnelly (D) and Abigail Morsberger (D).
Coach’s report: “We are a very young and inexperienced team. However, we are committed to building a strong program. And though we may not see the fruit of that dedication this year, the group of girls on this team are fantastic.”