Glen Burnie volleyball coach Juanita Murdock-Milani barely slept a wink the night of Oct. 26.
In less than 24 hours, her team was scheduled to face rival Severna Park. Even though Murdock-Milani brought an impressive record of 125-58 into the match -- including 63-11 over the last five seasons -- she still was "a wreck."
She need not have worried. The Gophers dominated the Falcons, 15-5, 15-3, 15-6, for a victory that presented Murdock-Milani with her first county title since she began coaching in 1978.
Still absent from her impressive resume is a state title. She takes another step toward that milestone when top-seeded Glen Burnie (14-0) plays host to No. 4 Old Mill (10-4) in tonight's Class 4A Region IV semifinals.
No. 3 Broadneck (11-2) visits No. 2 Severna Park (12-2) in tonight's other semifinal. Both matches begin at 6 p.m.
Winning a state championship would be the crowning achievement for the Gophers; it's something they've talked about since early September.
"When they started the season they weren't talking about a county title.
They wanted to get to the states," Murdock-Milani said. "The girls are relaxed coming into this week. They know what's at stake. They're mature enough to handle a loss, but they're not even considering it. This is something the girls want real bad."
Especially senior Stacy Gilligan, a returning All-Metro player who leads the team with 138 kills and has been successful on 94 percent of her 229 service attempts, including 40 aces.
Glen Burnie's balance of power also consists of starting seniors Christy Hutson (a team-high 44 service aces, 123 kills), Linda Fannin (37 aces, 37 kills), Melanie Scharf (19 aces, 107 kills), Mandy Albrecht (39 aces, 34 kills) and Michelle Ackerman (22 aces, 10 kills).
The starting six have a collective 86 percent success rate at the service line and 91 blocks for a team that has won 42 straight games.
Old Mill coach Patti DeMarco hasn't forgotten the 3-0 trouncing her Patriots received from Glen Burnie, county runners-up the past two years, in the league opener.
"They played well, and we played terrible," she said. "But we know we're the underdog, and we're ready to go after them."
DeMarco calls senior setter Mia Padgett "the quarterback" of her Patriots' 5-1 offense. Senior middle hitter Jennifer Bolfar and junior Jen Schmittle, a transfer from Glen Burnie, are the team's power hitters.
DeMarco also sends out a productive server in senior Denise Zellers. Of her nearly 200 serves, only eight failed to cross the net.
The recent troubles befalling Severna Park only have added to Broadneck coach Glenn Brainer's worries concerning the upcoming regional semifinal.
"We're weary of the fact they might be more ready for us since they're struggling," Brainer said after a Tuesday morning practice. "They're probably working that much harder. We don't feel it's an advantage because they're playing poorly. They'll be more mentally ready for us."
The Falcons, winners of 87 consecutive regular-season matches before the three-game sweep by Glen Burnie last month, are trying to rebound from last Friday's 3-2 upset loss to Chesapeake.
That's two losses in their past three matches. This from a program that has won six straight county titles and four region championships since 1985.
"I think the kids will probably pull through when it comes right down to it," Falcons assistant coach Bonnie Habicht said. "I think they'll be OK.
They were a little shaken after they lost to Chesapeake, but they're more relaxed now. That's all past them, and they're setting their sights on playing well. Plus, it's Broadneck, and that's always a big rivalry."
Habicht and Severna Park head coach Tim Dunbar are encouraged by the return of Kim Aller (torn ligaments in foot), Lori Sharpless (sprained ankle) and Suzi Sharpless (flu).
Broadneck lost to Severna Park in three games during the regular season, but the Bruins were without their best passer, junior setter Nikki St.
Clair, who missed two weeks with a shoulder sprain.
"The girls are confident after playing (Severna Park) tough with our key player missing," Brainer said. "We've won three straight since her return.
Our confidence is back. The girls feel if we stick to our game -- attacking the ball -- we can beat anybody."
The same was true last year, but that was before Broadneck lost 10 seniors to graduation. Theresa Cornish, a junior, was the lone returning starter.
"I've been pleasantly surprised by how well we've done," Brainer said.
"It's a young team. Most of the time we start two seniors, two juniors and two freshmen, so I'm surprised we've come this far. We had the nucleus of a good team, but I didn't know how good the chemistry would be."
He knew how good Cornish would be. The 6-foot-2 hitter has more than 100 kills this season, almost twice as many as the next closest Bruin, sophomore Julie Scott. Scott and St. Clair are Broadneck's leading servers, with a success rate of over 90 percent.
Brainer is among the many volleyball coaches in the county who welcomes the new best-of-five match-play format, which replaces the old round-robin tournament.
Brainer says the current arrangement will give the sport "more exposure."
"I'm real pleased with it," he said. "All year we play a best-of-five, but in the tournament you weren't in the same situation. Now we're in the same situation.
"It also gives more excitement to the game. Teams have the opportunity to play on their home court or someone else's court. It's just you and the other team."
DeMarco said, "You play the best-of-five format through the regular season, and I think that's how it should be in the playoffs. I'm for the single-elimination. The best team should win."
While admitting she liked the round-robin tournament, Murdock-Milani said the match-play format is "more to our advantage."
"We could be off one game," she said, "but I just don't see it."