It had been weeks since Catonsville's Shannon Rexrode had felt at the top of her game. The Comets' leading hitter couldn't find her timing, and instead of piling up kills hit many balls either long or into the net.
Last night against Loch Raven, it all came back.
Rexrode dominated, controlling play at the net and finishing with 23 kills to lead the host and 10th-ranked Comets to a 17-15, 15-3, 15-12 sweep over the No. 6 Raiders in the Class 2A, North regional finals.
With the win, Catonsville advances to Tuesday's Class 2A state semifinals, where it will play host to a team to be determined at 7 p.m. The Comets -- winners of seven state championships since 1979 -- will be shooting for their first appearance in the state finals since 1987.
If last night was any indication, they're on the right track.
It took Catonsville a scant 64 minutes to finish off the defending state champions. From the time the Comets rebounded from a 14-13 deficit in Game 1 to pull out a 17-15 win, they controlled the match.
"These kids played with the most intensity and enthusiasm I've seen from them," said Catonsville coach Debbie Clem.
Clem said she reminded her players of their four-game loss to Loch Raven earlier this season, in which they blew a number of key points. "I told them to play like each game was the last game and every point was 10-10," she said.
Rexrode did her part, playing one of the best games of her career against an undersized Raiders team. She said she felt good for the first time in several matches.
"I've been getting so frustrated in practice, hitting it into the net or hitting it out," said Rexrode.
The Raiders, who lost most of their size and experience from last year's team, were almost helpless on defense, as time and again she took sets from senior Abigail Clark near the net and pounded them into the ground.
"We couldn't stop her," said Loch Raven coach Carol McPherson. "We have short blockers this year, and there was just no way. She was just too good."