All postseason, Glenelg's mantra has been unfinished business.
The Gladiators ravaged through a tough section, beating out perennial Howard County powers Mt. Hebron and Marriotts Ridge, but they knew the job was not done. They dominated C.M Wright in the state semifinal with a commanding 12-goal victory, but they quickly refocused.
So on Tuesday at Stevenson University with the 3A/2A state championship on the line, as the seconds ticked down on a 14-1 victory over Oakdale, Glenelg relished the moment when it was able to truly celebrate with a state title in hand.
"We've played a lot of these hard teams in the beginning of playoffs in our section and I think when we had these big wins we made a point of saying, 'OK this is awesome, but we're done now. We've got to move on to the next game … every time we're like, 'We're not done,'" said Gladiators senior Julia Salandra. "It just felt so good. It was finally here. Each game again, we're like, 'It's not done yet.' But at that point we did what we needed to do and it felt so good."
It is the first state championship since 2008 for the Gladiators and the win marks the sixth state title for long-time Glenelg coach Ginger Kincaid (winning three in lacrosse and three in field hockey).
"There's no way this happens with just me," Kincaid said. "My coaching staff – there's not a better one around. The two here, Alex Pagnotta and Nikki Trunzo they're awesome, every practice was just an intense practice and every practice was not a wasted moment. When you have that kind of 1-2-3 punch. It's just amazing.
"I'm blessed I've been here that many times, that's just great."
In this year's title match-up, Alayna Pagnotta (three goals) opened up with the game's first goal for Glenelg after a lengthy possession, which saw three shots on net.
The Bears' Melissa Semkiw (11 saves) played solid in goal, and kept Oakdale in it early. Her two early saves set the stage for Hannah Clingan to tie the game up at 1-1 on a free position with about 20 minutes left in the first half.
"I thought it was going to be a good start to it, but I'm sad that it didn't," Clingan said. "I thought it was going to be a good motivator for everybody to start."
It was the only goal the Bears saw in the game. Glenelg created 11 turnovers — including eight in the first half — and was backed by stellar play by sophomore goalie, Maddie McSally (eight saves). McSally, who won the starting job in the beginning of the season, had really hit her stride as of late and solidified an already stout defensive unit for the Gladiators.
"Of course I've always felt pressure, especially coming in after Megan (Taylor)" McSally said. "I mean she's an amazing goalie. Stepping up after her was definitely a challenge, but I think during playoffs I think I finally came to my senses and started feeling comfortable with the team and really knowing that I belong. We really work as a unit and together on defense. It's really come together nicely and it's really awesome."
Georgia Esmond (two goals, three assists) started what turned out as a Glenelg 13-0 run, putting away her first of the game with 16:18 remaining in the half.
"They're just deep," said Oakdale coach Beth Nave. "They had subs that were as fast and strong as the starters and they really had few weaknesses to expose. It's just hard to find their weaknesses — usually when you have such a strong team like that you might find a weakness in the goalie and that wasn't there either."
Courtney Renehan (two goals) upped the score three minutes later, capitalizing off a great double by Salandra and Emily Nalls, which resulted in another Bears turnover.
"We knew they hadn't played a whole lot against zones so we knew if we did a backer or a zone defense they'd struggle if we got on their hands and that's what we did defensively," explained Kincaid.
Esmond assisted Renehan on the following goal with just about 11 minutes remaining in the half. It all started on the defensive end, with Caroline Kwon getting a deflection off a pass. Carrie Hesen picked up the ground ball and the Gladiators quickly got the ball up and out for the score.
"Since they've hit their playoff stride, they've just not looked back," Kincaid said. "They're playing at all cylinders. We started this team a few years ago was built on defense and we've carried it through until the end. The defense allowed the offense to do all the things they did with confidence because when your up and the other team only has one goal you can take all kinds of risks and do all kinds of things."
The Gladiators added one more just before the break, which again came off an Oakdale turnover on the other end. Nalls picked up the loose ball and ran it down to the offensive zone, where Esmond put away a free position with 3.9 seconds to spare to give Glenelg the 5-1 lead at the break.
"Stepping in that first game of playoffs we knew if we lose we're out and we're going to lose the seniors that we have, so I think we realized that we need to finish and we could really make it all the way and that's what we did," Esmond said. "I think we just stepped it up and realized what we had to get done and that was win states."
It was an overpowering second half for the Gladiators. They won all but three draw controls and scored on nearly every offensive possession. Glenelg's offense figured out Semkiw, who had done a terrific job in the first 25-minutes, picking up 10 saves. But in the second period, she totaled just one stop, while the Gladiators rattled off nine unanswered goals.
"I think the nerves got to us a little in the first half," Kincaid said. "We weren't putting the ball in the back of the net, but the second half we came out and played like we can."
It was a balanced offensive effort for Glenelg, as Lindsay LeTellier (two goals, one assist), Pagnotta, Rachel Scheinberg, Peighton Stone, Jenny Giampalmo, Renehan, Maddy O'Brien and Anna Callahan (one goal, one assist) all added at least one score in the final minutes to facilitate the hefty lead and eventual 13-point win.
"It just felt so good," Salandra added. "It was finally here … We just worked so hard all year and our coaches have pushed us so hard all year. They pulled us to the highest of expectations and we pulled ourselves to the highest of expectations I think and it just feels amazing that it all paid off in the end."
Kincaid felt the key to success this season was the change in schedule alignments, with every game preparing her team for a deep playoff push. She had said the same thing during the preseason.
"I think the county has finally come to their senses and given us a great schedule," Kincaid said. "We didn't have one easy game all year long. I think being allowed to play that kind of schedule made all the difference."
Glenelg graduates only four seniors — Monica Chassion, Caroline Esmond, Salandra and Sammi Pearce. And with even more talent coming up the ranks, the Gladiators are primed to defend their state title next season.
But will Kincaid come back for her 30th season?
"Who knows?" she said.
They'll enjoy this one for now.
Glenelg 14, Oakdale 1 (Tuesday, May 24) (3A/2A state championship)
Goals: G – Pagnotta 3, G. Esmond 2, LeTellier 2, Renehan 2, Callahan 1, O'Brien 1, Giampalmo 1, Stone 1, Scheinberg 1; O – Clingan.
Assists: G – G. Esmond 3, Callahan 1, LeTellier 1, Salandra 1.
Saves: G – McSally 8; O – Semkiw 11.