For No. 4 Glenelg, the hard part was getting to the state championship final. The easy part was winning it.
The Gladiators (17-2) earned their first state title yesterday in Class 2A with a 15-9, 15-8, 15-8 victory over North Hagerstown at Catonsville Community College.
"These three games seemed a lot easier than the last match," said senior hitter Kerry Rutter of the Gladiators' five-game semifinal struggle to beat Loch Raven. "That match was much more intense, but we've prepared for this all season, and it feels great to win it."
After beating Loch Raven on Wednesday, the Gladiators watched North Hagerstown (15-4) beat No. 7 South River handily in the other semifinal.
Yesterday, however, the Hubs did not put up much of a fight. Except for a brief third-game momentum swing, the Gladiators breezed past the Hubs. North Hagerstown struggled with its hitting and serving while the Gladiators remained consistent.
The Hubs, averaging 25.8 kills per match, managed just 16. Glenelg's top gun, Marisa Davidson, had a match-high 14 kills as the Gladiators totaled 24, nearly matching their season average of 28.8.
"Looking at that semifinal, I thought North Hagerstown looked pretty strong," said Glenelg coach Marlene Janis. "Knowing that, I think we were more mentally prepared to play them."
Janis has said all season that reaching the state final and winning it was more a mental game than a physical one.
Team captain Marisa Davidson agreed: "After winning those five-game matches, we realized how good we were, and how confident we were. After that, we were unstoppable."
Those five-game victories toughened the Gladiators for their title run. But yesterday, Glenelg finally shook a mid-match lapse that had dogged it all season.
"Traditionally, in our third game -- give it to the other team," said Janis. "One big goal for this match was to take charge, play the entire time and not let up -- and we did that."
The Gladiators took advantage of Hubs mishits to pull ahead early in each of the first two games. North Hagerstown rallied to pull ahead 9-8 in the first game and tie 7-7 in the second, but Glenelg took over both times on Marisa Davidson's serve.
In the first two games, the Hubs' setters couldn't put the ball on the net, and the hits did not clear the net.
"We were serving well, so their passes were off the net and then their sets would be off the net," said Marisa Davidson. "That gives us more reaction time, which is good because we're not known for being real quick."
In the third game, the Gladiators ran up a 9-2 lead. Then they suffered their only lapse of the match, allowing the Hubs to pull within 9-6, but it didn't last long.
"I don't think any of us were willing to let it go more than three games. It just wasn't going to happen," said Rutter.
The Gladiators rebounded quickly although except for Jaime Marshall's ace and Marisa Davidson's tip, Glenelg won the rest of its points on North Hagerstown mistakes.
"Good season, bad day," said Hubs coach Karen McKee. "We didn't flow today. It wasn't anything Glenelg did. We changed our offense and tried to substitute some different kids, but we couldn't seem to get it together."
The Gladiators' victory continued Howard County's stranglehold on the Class 2A title. This marked the sixth straight year a Howard team has won the championship. Atholton won in 1988 and 1989, and Mount Hebron (now in Class 3A) took the previous three titles.