South River's volleyball team has come a long way in a short time.
But it faces the toughest leg of the journey tomorrow.
The Seahawks, winners of a single match two years ago, are off to an 8-0 start and are ranked fifth in the metro area. They're getting ready for perhaps the biggest regular-season match in school history tomorrow afternoon at No. 6 Broadneck, a regional finalist the past three years.
The Bruins (5-2) are easily the toughest team that South River has faced. And it doesn't get easier, with matches to come against Glen Burnie, Old Mill and defending 4A champion Severna Park.
"This is the start of the second half of our season," said South River coach Melissa Diehlmann. "I just hope it goes as well as the first."
So many things have gone right for the Seahawks this season.
While they haven't exactly breezed through the season -- Queen Anne's extended the Seahawks to five games, and Meade and North County each lasted four games -- no opponent has come close to victory.
South River started to turn things around last year when it went 6-6 before losing to Douglass of Prince George's County in five games in the regional semifinals. But while it was a vast improvement from the previous season, it was not exactly the stuff of legend.
"I thought we'd come out a little bit on top, but I definitely wasn't expecting this," said 6-foot junior hitter Pam Patterson. "But I think we deserve it. A lot of our players have gotten a lot better, playing club ball and everything."
Diehlmann, whose team lost first-team All-County hitter Colette Marquis to graduation, said: "I don't think anyone anticipated South River standing out this year, but I did. I think we're surprising a lot of teams."
They won't catch Broadneck unprepared. Broadneck coach Glenn Brainer saw many of the Seahawks during the winter, when they played on the same club teams as his players.
"We knew those girls were good," he said. "And they've got one of the best coaches in the county. I would have picked them in the preseason to be one of the top five teams."
South River is playing well at every position.
Senior setter Gretchen Sullivan has 153 assists and is serving at a 94 percent success rate. Most important, she is getting the ball to Patterson, who has 176 attacks and 96 kills and is serving at 90 percent.
Junior hitter Stacey Thomas has 76 attacks, 30 kills and 10 digs. Senior hitter Maureen Keogh has 26 kills. Senior defender Tiffany McAbee has 20 digs and 15 aces.
And Stacey's sister, 5-11 freshman Kim Thomas, "has been blocking like crazy," Diehlmann said. "When they're on, they're so good.
"This is going to be one of the toughest matches for the girls, both mentally and physically. It's really going to put them to the test, to show teams how they can play. If they beat Broadneck, or can give them a good run for the money, I think the county would open its eyes and say, 'South River does have a good team here.' They've been sitting back in the shadows for so long."
Now, they yearn for the spotlight.
"We're really going to get worked up for it," Patterson said. "We're feeling really strong because we've come together as a team. I feel like we can beat them. If we all play together, we're going to have a real good chance.
"We scrimmaged them, and even though you don't keep score, we could tell it's going to be a close matchup."