Chuck Struhar had a project on his hands when he took over Glenelg'sgirls basketball program last fall.
First of all, Struhar had been away from the game for three years, having given up coaching girls basketball at Glenelg in 1988 after 13 seasons. He also became the third coach to run the Gladiators in three years, following Barb Wolf and Russ Sellers, Struhar's successor. And he had to turn a relativelyinexperienced team into a playoff power while playing in a tough basketball county.
Four months later, Struhar and the Gladiators are headed to Catonsville Community College for Glenelg's third Class 2A tournament appearance in four seasons. And this weekend will be a special one for Struhar, who, despite a previously successful run at Glenelg, is makingthe trip to the final four for the first time.
"I've got the limorented and the tux is ready, but it's nothing big," deadpanned Struhar, whose fourth-seeded Gladiators (17-7) must beat top-seeded Wicomico Friday to advance to Saturday's state title game.
Struhar likesGlenelg's chances of winning its first state title for several reasons, beginning with defending state champion Mount Hebron's elimination by third-seeded Hammond in Friday's Region II final. While the Gladiators lost twice by a combined 26 points to Hebron, they split with Hammond during the regular season en route to a 9-5, fourth-place finish in the county.
Beyond records, though, Struhar likes the way his team is performing right now. The Gladiators were still good enough to earn a top seed in Region I, and they defeated Allegany and Middletown (Frederick County) handily to win their second consecutive regional crown.
As he did for 13 years, Struhar has preached defense to his girls since the first day of practice. His message has gotten through, as Glenelg surrendered an average of 43.8 points against thecounty while scoring 54.
"The kids have bought into the concept of killing yourself on defense," said Struhar, whose Gladiators play aman-to-man with a few wrinkles, including a potent, full-court press. "If we go out, play good defense and shoot comparatively well, we're going to be in the game."
The engine that has made Glenelg go all season has been senior point guard Tanissa Dorsey, who started occasionally as a junior and had been as inconsistent as she was dazzling. This year, Struhar has coaxed a superb season out of Dorsey, the county's most athletic -- and arguably its best -- player.
Dorsey won the county scoring title with a 19.2 scoring average and also grabs7.5 rebounds and dishes out three assists a game.
But there are other parts to the machine, beginning with senior guard Jenny Leedom, whom Struhar calls the "most underrated player in the county and the unsung hero of our team."
Leedom averages 10 points a game, but provides her key contributions on defense. She typically draws the toughest assignment in each game, namely the opponent's biggest backcourtthreat.
"We figure our shots will fall eventually, so, in the meantime, just keeping working on defense," said Leedom, who has played for three different coaches and called Struhar the strictest of the three.
"We work harder in practice with him," she added. "I knew I had my job to do. The whole team knew in the beginning that I would be the defensive player."
Struhar has defined other roles. Senior Sarah Jones, who alternated as a starter last year with Leedom, is listed as a guard, but can play any position. Struhar has asked her to do as much. A streak shooter and a solid defender, Jones (10 points a game) has been effective in an occasional, low-post role.
Glenelg's most marked area of improvement has been down low, where junior forwards Dana Hoffman (5-9) and Debbie Snyder (6-0) have come on strong recently.
Their strides were most evident in last week's regionals. Snyder combined for 27 points and 14 rebounds in victories over Allegany and Middletown, while Hoffman pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds against Middletown. Neither of them played much last year.
"Snyder has improved more than any player on our team, and they (Snyderand Hoffman) have become a tandem," Struhar said.
"We're not going to dazzle people. We're not glamorous," Struhar said. "We're just abunch of good role players who work hard. We don't have a lot of margin for error. But we're as good as anybody."