Midfielder Jason Pett admits he's as surprised as anyone by the sudden reawakening of Glenelg High School's boys lacrosse program.
Third-year coach Rick Kincaid and attackman Nevin Hilliard echo the feeling. If you polled every lacrosse coach, player and fan in Howard County, you would probably get the same response.
Every once in a while, a team comes along and turns expectations upside down. The Gladiators -- 4-2 against the county, 9-4 overall, and would have earned a trip to the Class 2A state playoffs with a victory over visiting Hammond yesterday (after the Howard County Sun deadline) -- are this year's entry.
When you think of Glenelg boys lacrosse, you think of a struggling program used to losing, as the Gladiators' 10-40 record over the past four seasons indicates.
All of which makes this year's success so refreshing.
The Gladiators, whoreturned nearly the entire starting lineup from last year's 3-9 team, gained confidence early by beating up on weak, non-league competitors like City (21-3), Owings Mills (14-5) and Havre de Grace (15-4). They earned more credibility by giving two traditional Harford County powers tough games, when they beat Bel Air, 8-5, and lost in overtimeto Fallston, 6-5.
Heading into league play with a 5-2 record, Glenelg had won more games than the two previous Glenelg teams combined.And the Gladiators kept turning corners.
After beating Wilde Lakeand Atholton to start the county schedule, they spotted Oakland Mills a 3-0 lead before coming back to win, 7-6. Then, Glenelg won its biggest game since 1985 -- the Gladiators last won the county championship that year -- when they beat defending league champion Mount Hebron, 9-8, in overtime.
Here they were, two weeks into the county season, and the Gladiators were sitting in first place with Howard. The Lions proceeded to burst Glenelg's bubble nine days ago with a 15-6 drubbing. Centennial followed with an 11-8 victory that threw more cold water on Glenelg's spring.
But the Gladiators weren't about to hang their heads. The atmosphere at Monday's practice was anything butdownbeat.
"On the whole, this team has surprised a lot of people,including me," said Pett, a senior co-captain who suffered through two disastrous years before finding his redemption this spring. "Going from 1-12 and 3-9 to a possible state tournament berth is quite an accomplishment."
Pett is the main reason Glenelg is enjoying itself for a change. He leads the team in assists (30), ground balls (138), has won 100 of 136 faceoffs (74 percent) and has scored 29 goals toshare the team lead with Hilliard, a junior.
The Gladiators have filled in the gaps behind Pett. Hilliard has 10 assists and 74 groundballs to complement his team-high 57 percent shooting. Attackman Dusty Heusser has 26 goals, 19 assists and 67 ground balls. Midfielders John Schulze (14 goals, 53 ground balls) and Rich Weatherby (10 goals) and attackman Kevin Lafferty (12 goals, 14 assists, 64 ground balls) have also chipped in.
On defense, Jackson Fisher has marked the toughest scoring threat each game with success. Jamie Traxel willingly moved from attack to defense and has become the most improved player on the team. Goalie Craig Flurry is averaging 11.5 saves a game.
"I can name one person from some other team in the county who is better than us at each position, but the team unity and chemistry has been incredible this year," says Pett, modestly ignoring his own All-County credentials.
"When we hit the county strong, I thought we hada chance to go far," Pett adds. "I came into the county thinking I'ddo as well as I could and leave it at that. But now, my attitude is,'Who cares what I do, as long as the team wins?' We learned we had the ability to win early, but this team has amazed me."
Pett isn't alone. You watch the Gladiators, and nothing impressive grabs you. They're not particularly big, not especially fast, not exceptionally skilled. What they have going for them are sound fundamentals and uncommon patience.
"Our kids basically have to work for everything theyget. They're good athletes, but you're not going to find too many superstars on this team," said Kincaid.
"There's not a greedy one inthe bunch. They're so unselfish. They've given up open 14-yard shotsto set up an open six-yarder. They've adhered to a discipline and a philosophy, and they've worked on their skills on the off-season."
Glenelg has thrived by maintaining offensive possessions and workingthe clock to offset their lack of speed, which limits their transition game. The Gladiators have worked that to perfection several times this year, but never as well as they did against Mount Hebron.
"I got about 10 phone calls after that (Hebron) game. Those kinds of victories are for the underprivileged, so to speak. They are the eternalhope for all coaches, the fire that keeps us going," says Kincaid, who credits Assistant Coach Sonny Ziegler with Glenelg's improvement.
Kincaid, who has seen the Glenelg program go from a dismal 1-12 ("It was tough to watch") in his first season to the brink of the stateplayoffs, sees signs that the Gladiators are here to stay.
"We'vegot some nice players coming back, we've got some good JV players coming up, and we've got more kids than ever going to lacrosse camps," he says. "You try to get them to believe in themselves, to know they can do certain things well. And winning sure helps."