The scares came one too many times for Atholton's gymnastics squad, winners of every Howard County meet the past five years.
First, it was Howard pressuring Atholton early in the season, losing by seven points. Then, last Thursday, Mount Hebron took a strong shot, only to fall to the Raiders by one point.
Yesterday in the county meet, Oakland Mills' challenge was too much for the four-time defending county champion Raiders to thwart. The host Scorpions, trailing Atholton by 1.6 points before the final rotation, tallied a 35.2 on floor exercise to the Raiders' 33.05 on balance beam, creating a 131.35 to 130.50 final score.
With its highest score of the season, Oakland Mills became a first-time county champion. Howard (125.75), in first place after the initial rotation, Mount Hebron (125.30), Centennial (99.50), Glenelg (90.55) and Hammond (63.95) rounded out the scoring. Wilde Lake's scores didn't count because none of its gymnasts competed in at least three meets.
"I knew we had the ability to do it, my greatest fear was that some schools dominate a sport for so long that they're bigger than life. That's any coach's greatest fear," Scorpions coach Bonnie Taylor said. "When you're trying to topple a champion, the kids really have to know they can do it and not be afraid of succeeding."
Before the Scorpions' celebration commenced, they saw senior Lori Jackson and junior Kelley Callaway score 9.55 and 9.45 on floor, respectively, ending career-high overall performances.
Not coincidentally, Jackson and Callaway placed Nos. 1 and 2 in all-around. Jackson, at 37.0, captured her first county title after two straight second-place finishes, and Callaway scored a 36.2. They were trailed by Mount Hebron's Amy Walton (35.9), Howard's Pamela Bradley (35.25), Atholton's Shannon Mennell (35.15) and Howard's Kim MacNemar (35.1).
Entering the final rotation, "We kind of figured" Oakland Mills would prevail, Raiders coach Terri Smith said. "Their floor is strong, so we knew we had to do an awesome job on beam. But I was in no way conceding [victory]."
Jackson swept all individual events, tallying 8.85 on vault, 9.4 on beam, 9.2 on uneven bars and an electrifying 9.55 on floor. She was innovative on floor, completing a "front-through to full" and a "full-twisting back handspring for the first-time this year."
Jackson, who surpassed 37.0 for the first time ever, remained low-keyed afterward.
"Whatever I get is great," she said. "I did a good job and I did what I could."
Taylor appeared much more excited, describing the victory as her happiest moment ever except for getting married and giving birth to two children.
"I'm ecstatic. We're in first place," she said. "This year, we were good and really worked hard. It's our first gymnastics championship and that's a long time coming.
"The pressure was on and they came through," she said of Jackson and Callaway. "We were down 1.6 after the third event. We had to make that up plus beat them."