Glenelg volleyball coach Marlene Janis said she sensed a certain confidence about the Gladiators when they took the floor to begin their season Thursday against North Carroll.
The Gladiators needed just over an hour to dispatch the Panthers, 15-8, 15-9, 18-16, a three-game sweep that fulfilled Janis' expectations and raised her players' hopes for what they envision as a comeback season of major proportions.
Glenelg (1-0) hardly looked like the team that went 6-9 last fall and seemed to get caught up in a five-game marathon every night.
These Gladiators were more efficient in their serving, tidier in their passing, deadlier in their hitting and generally smarter at the net.
"We've spent a lot of time talking about seeing the holes [in the defense], changing up [on their shots] and playing smart," Janis said. "We went out and really did that."
It helped that North Carroll (0-2) hardly looked like the team that won a state title two years ago. The Panthers gave away a noticeable height advantage, and, due mostly to sloppy passing, had trouble sustaining an attack. They even blew a 9-1 lead in the second game.
Still, the Gladiators weren't taking the victory lightly. This marked the first time they had beaten North Carroll in eight years.
"Last year, we had a lot of five-game matches, and we always struggled when we got down. We didn't have any consistency," Janis said.
"We look a lot more confident now. I'm sure the experienced has helped."
SG Indeed, the Gladiators returned nearly their entire starting lineup
from last season. More importantly, the majority of the team spent the off-season playing club volleyball. The experience showed.
"We had a couple of lapses, but they were minor," said Glenelg junior 5-foot-11 hitter Marisa Davidson, who led the way with 11 kills, including five in the hard-fought third game.
"We're concentrating on being more of a team. We have rebuilt since last year."
The only thing Glenelg didn't show Thursday was the potent block it will need against the county's better squads. North Carroll was mostly responsible for that, however. The Panthers repeatedly had trouble setting for their front-row leaders, Meghan Moore and Joy Huber. Their third shot often was a mid-court lob that Glenelg handled easily.
The Gladiators conversely put their weapons to good use. Senior hitter Laura Schrader, one of three 6-foot starters -- senior twin sisters Debbie and Donna Snyder are the others -- was a force on the outside with nine kills. Debbie Snyder had five kills and a team-high four aces on 14-for-15 serving. Senior 5-4 setter Joy Younce steadied the offense with 24 assists.
And Glenelg scored points for tenacity. After breezing to a 6-0 lead in the first game behind Davidson's serve, the Gladiators saw North Carroll draw to within 10-8, before Schrader put away the Panthers. A kill, a point block and a kill by Schrader made it 13-8. Schrader then served out the game.
The second game crushed North Carroll and lifted the Gladiators.
After falling behind 9-1, Glenelg started an improbable comeback. The Gladiators pulled to within 9-3, lost the serve, regained it and with Debbie Snyder serving, went on an 11-point run that featured two kills by Davidson and three aces by Snyder. After losing the serve on game point, the Gladiators' finished their 14-0 run with a crosscourt kill by Schrader, thanks to a perfect feed from Younce.
In the third game, Janis reached deep into her bench, and the Gladiators faltered by blowing a 13-7 lead. But with Schrader, Davidson and Younce holding things together, they stormed back to tie the game at 13. North Carroll staved off match point, then took a 16-15 lead and stood one point away from forcing a fourth game.
But Glenelg broke North Carroll's serve on a block by Brandy Jones, scored two straight points on errant shots by the Panthers, and finished the match fittingly on a kill by Davidson.