With a regular-season 87-game winning streak and six county titles on the line, Severna Park's volleyball team was under a lot of pressure going into Friday's showdown with the unbeaten Glen Burnie Gophers.
However, the Gophers (12-0 overall, 8-0 league) quickly relieved them of the pressure by dominating all three games, 15-5, 15-3, 15-6, to clinch Coach Juanita Murdock-Milani's first county title in 13 years.
The title was a long time coming for Murdock-Milani, who has an overall 126-58 record -- including 64-11 over the last five seasons. Her Gophers, who finished as regular-season runner-ups to Severna Park the last two seasons, last defeated the Falcons for the 1988 regional title.
"Last night I was a nervous wreck," said Murdock-Milani, standing in the Severna Park gymnasium after the game. "The seniors on this team have all been there. They were the first freshman class we had at Glen Burnie."
"We've been waiting for this game for three years," said senior Stacy Gilligan, who was promoted to the varsity team late in her freshman season.
The Gophers gained the inside track for the top seed in next week's Class 4A Region IV tournament. Glen Burnie first must defeat two-time Harford County champion Bel Air (12-0) Tuesday and Class 2A rival Northeast Friday.
Severna Park (11-1, 5-1) had hoped to use its height advantage over the shorter Gophers, with sophomores Catherine Kirk (5-foot-11), Kate Marks (5-10), senior Kim Aller (5-10) and freshman Jen Conner (5-foot-9).
But the Gophers displayed a more balanced and aggressive attack at the net behind Christy Hutson (10-of-12 serving with an ace), who finished with nine kills and five blocks.
Gilligan and Linda Fannin each were 12-for-12 from the service line.
Gilligan had an ace and six kills and Fannin had a block and three kills.
"We served 36 times with nine errors -- that's a 25 percent error average and you cannot do that against a team like Glen Burnie that doesn't make mistakes," said fourth-year Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar, whose Falcons have two league games remaining against Old Mill Tuesday and Chesapeake Friday. "They continued to attack and we couldn't pass or serve well and dug ourselves a hole."
Against the Gophers, to put it bluntly: The Falcons got served.
And Glen Burnie's Mandy Albrecht was the most effective server.
"I spent all week practicing putting (serves) in different places on the court," said Albrecht, a senior who had her best game going 18-for-21 from the service line with five service aces and a kill.
Her most impressive effort came in the third game with her team leading 3-0. Albrecht served five straight winners to help the Gophers take a 9-0 lead before the Falcons finally scored.
"We knew from our scouting reports that if we could serve to certain positions they'd have problems with serve reception," said Murdock-Milani.
"We got in our topspins and our low serves. There were a variety."
Also playing well were Michelle Ackerman (6-of-8, two aces, one kill) and Melanie Scharf (3-for-3, one kill).
So far this season Gilligan is serving 97 percent with 34 aces and 112 kills. Senior teammates Hutson (91 percent, 42 aces, 98 kills), Fannin (95 percent, 32 aces, 33 kills), Albrecht (84 percent, 31 aces, 27 kills) and Scharf (84 percent, 17 aces, 96 kills) round out an experienced squad.
"Severna Park is a young team and they'll be back in the playoffs and over the next few years," said Murdock-Milani. "But right now, I'm just going to take (the victory) and run with it. I'm going to enjoy this."