After a mediocre 1992-93 season, the Glenelg Gladiators were picked to finish as low as sixth in the county according to one preseason poll.
But for coach Randy Wallenhorst, that may have been the best thing that could have happened. It was just the tool he needed to give his team a little extra motivation.
Yesterday, at home against No. 19 Wilde Lake, the 17th-ranked Gladiators again showed that a little hard work can move mountains.
Outhustling Wilde Lake from the opening tip, Glenelg won loose balls, grabbed offensive rebounds and, in the end, reaped the benefits with a 45-35 win to keep the Gladiators unbeaten and tied for first in the Howard County League.
"Our motto this year is: 'Nobody plays harder than us,' " said Glenelg guard Kim Brown, who led the winners with 13 points, including 10 in the first half. "We just want to go out and hustle."
And the Gladiators (9-1, 2-0) did plenty of that.
Against Wilde Lake, which beat them twice last season by a total of five points, they came out strong, building a 16-11 lead at the end of one quarter, and never trailed the rest of the way.
They kept the Wildecats (4-5, 0-2) off-balance by switching defenses nearly every time down the court, sticking primarily with the man-to-man and 1-3-1 trap.
The strategy worked perfectly, as Wilde Lake turned over the ball 27 times, including 15 times in the first half when it built a lead it held throughout the second half.
But as much as the kind of defense was the manner in which Glenelg played it. The scrappy Gladiators almost always got a hand in the shooter's face and worked hard on the boards to keep the Wildecats to one shot on most possessions.
Aside from Kristen Riismandel (game-high 14 points), not one Wilde Lake player scored more than six.
"We were outhustled," said Wilde Lake coach Kelly Rosati. "They were getting three and four shots per possession and we were getting one."
Through the first three quarters, the hosts outshot Wilde Lake 47-34 before the Wildecats began to play more aggressively down the stretch.
By then, however, it was too late.
Glenelg's lead ballooned to 16, at 42-26, on Carey Brian's layup with 5:22 left, and the Wildecats could never get closer than eight.
Brian was a key contributor on offense, scoring nine points and collecting nine rebounds, and Trish Kilroy scored six and had 10 rebounds. Also for the Gladiators, Jill Yance had eight points and Christina Flowers had seven.
For Wallenhorst, whose critics had complained that Glenelg hadn't yet beaten anybody of note, the win was proof that his team is for real.
"The kids really wanted it, and they knew I really wanted it," said Wallenhorst. "We wanted to show that we're for real. People have been saying our schedule is suspect, but tonight we went out and beat a Top 20 team.
"We just keep on finding a way to win."