River Hill opened its season last night against visiting Glenelg like the defending county champion it is. The Hawks earned the first 14 points of the match and easily won the first two games.
Then came the third game.
"We fell completely as a team," said River Hill junior outside hitter Megan Mitchell.
Whatever magic River Hill had in the first two games, No. 11 Glenelg caught it, used it and handedly won the next two to tie the match.
No. 5 River Hill never blinked in the final game. The Hawks established control early and won going away for a 15-4, 15-7, 3-15, 7-15, 15-6 league victory.
"The first two games we played as a team. We communicated well," said River Hill senior setter Sarah Albert. "The next two games we fell apart. We stopped talking and got down on ourselves.
"But in the fifth game we picked ourselves back up and put it together."
River Hill won the first four points in the fifth game, but Glenelg (1-1 overall, 0-1 county) rallied to tie the game at 5. The Hawks earned the next four points - two on aces - behind the serving of Rosana Drake and never looked back. Freshman Stephanie Jacobson served out the final four points of the match that included two winners at the net by sophomore Alison Kupec.
Glenelg first-year coach Jennifer Beall was disappointed by her team's early showing.
"It was horrible. There was no life," said Beall, whose team opened the season with a victory at Bel Air. "They came out scared at the beginning because it was River Hill and the reputation they have. Their confidence wasn't there."
Glenelg fell quickly behind in the second game, 8-1, and never recovered.
The Gladiators played more under control at the start of the third game, and got a big lift from junior Alyssa Huber off the bench. With the score tied at 3, Huber served nine straight points.
"She came in and really picked everyone else up," Beall said.
Jacobson served four points to stake the Hawks to a 4-2 lead in the fourth game. But Glenelg took the lead on three serves from Huber, then a minute later ran off seven straight for a 12-4 advantage behind the serving of senior Lauren Culler.
But the final game belonged to River Hill, which reached the Class 3A state title game last season.
"I think River Hill came out a little stronger in the fifth game and my girls were off and on," Beall said.
River Hill senior Krystal Jacobson and Mitchell each came up with hard-hit winners in the final game.
"We have to learn from this and fix some things," Albert said. "Communication is the big one. But I think we played well as a team and we have to keep it up. It can only get better from here."
Beall, too, was upbeat after the match. "I'm glad they were able to come back from being two down. They showed potential," she said. "But to beat the big teams they're going to have to stay consistent."