Glenelg senior captain Colleen McAulay talks about her team’s sweep of Wilde Lake in the 2A South, Section I️ final.

Before the season, Glenelg volleyball coach Jason Monjes sensed his team would break away from its middling county finishes the past few years and catapult to the top of the league standings.

He’s seen his seniors mature throughout their careers, knowing they would not be satisfied with mediocrity or another first-round defeat in the state playoffs. It’s been that way the past two seasons.

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The Gladiators (14-2) ended up finishing the 2017 campaign third in the county behind Atholton and Howard. Then they defeated Marriotts Ridge, 3-1, in their postseason opener. That set up a 2A South, Section I final between Monjes’ team and third-seeded Wilde Lake, which upset No. 2 River Hill in five sets on Monday.

And Wednesday night, Glenelg once again prevailed. Despite falling behind in the first two sets, the Gladiators came back to win both frames in an eventual 25-21, 25-20, 25-15 victory over the Wildecats.

“This team is so tight knit,” said senior captain Colleen McAulay, who had a team-high eight kills. “That’s what has really brought us this far in the season.”

Glenelg advances to the 2A South final, where it’ll host La Plata on Friday. The Gladiators, which last won a state title in 2005, are looking for their first state semifinals appearance since 2014, when it lost to North Hagerstown in the 3A championship game.

“We’ve just been lucky to get a lot of good players that have fit the pieces of this team,” Monjes said.

He went on to mention senior Dani D’Ascenzo, a Chapelgate transfer who along with sophomore Lydia Stricker has solidified the team’s back row. The unit has provided “pretty consistent” ball control defense, which Monjes said has allowed Glenelg to run an offense. That hasn’t always been the case in past years.

The Gladiators attack found a rhythm in the third set Wednesday, opening up leads of 15-3 and 21-7 behind McAulay and sophomore Reagan Keener (five kills). Wilde Lake scored the next six points, but it couldn’t mount the type of comeback it allowed the set before.

Up 24-15, Glenelg capped the three-set win when Jaleah Murray’s serve landed beyond the end line. It marked a drastic change in competitiveness from the first two sets.

McAulay said her team was “thrown off” by not starting as strong as they would have liked. The match went back and forth the opening 20 points, and the Gladiators even held a 13-11 lead. But the Wildecats, who Monjes said had “nothing to lose” after upsetting River Hill, battled back to earn a 17-14 advantage. After Monjes timeout, his team fell behind, 20-16.

With the pressure mounting on Glenelg, the section’s top seed, it immediately took control after going down four points. With two aces, a couple of kills and a few Wilde Lake mistakes, the Gladiators scored the set’s final six points to secure a 25-21 triumph.

“The girls really hung tough this year and had a great season,” Wildecats coach Nick Sharp said. “There’s no shame in how they played at all.”

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The Raiders won, 25-22, 29-27, 25-19, on Wednesday to improve to 15-1 and into the 3A East region championship game.

In fact, Wilde Lake proved to be the aggressor for much of the second set. It opened a 16-10 lead on Glenelg, which McAulay said was fatigued after pushing “really hard” the opening frame.

Monjes has always emphasized stopping opposing teams’ runs. He set the magic number at six, the exact deficit Glenelg faced before making its comeback.

“If we give up a 3- to 6-point lead or run — if we don’t stop it by then, we’re in trouble,” Monjes said.

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From there, Glenelg rattled off nine straight points off the serve of senior Darcy Bishop, who also had seven kills. The Gladiators would end the set on a 15-4 run to take a demanding two-set lead. And it had no interest in giving up that advantage in the third frame.

With a spot in the 2A South title game on the line, they set their sights on a playoff sweep.

“We knew that we would be able to pull this through,” McAulay said. “We knew that with two sets going in, it was going to be easy for us to get it going and just go on a run from the very beginning.”

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