'Hungry dogs run faster': Glenelg girls lacrosse showcases relentless intensity en route to state title

May 23—Every high school coach wants their team to start fast. However, for Glenelg girls lacrosse, fast starts take on a deeper meaning.

Those strong starts aren't just a goal for the Gladiators, they're the standard. They have dog tags each year with a mantra for the season.

This year, assistant coach Anna Callahan, who was part of Glenelg's three straight state championship teams from 2016 to 2018, brought the slogan "Hungry dogs run faster." The team's style derives from that motto, playing with a relentless intensity and not leaving anything to chance.

However, that philosophy isn't only for the game's first few minutes, it's predicated on a full 48-minute effort. Tuesday afternoon at Stevenson University's Mustang Stadium, the Gladiators exemplified the characteristics that have defined this year's group.

Glenelg left nothing to chance and jumped on Queen Anne's with two goals in the first 61 seconds. They never looked back and cruised to a 13-3 win over the Lions in the Class 2A state championship game, capturing the program's first title since 2018.

"All we kept on saying was, 'Win every individual quarter. Give everything you have for each individual quarter,'" senior Kamryn Henson said. "Also, knowing that, it isn't like, 'This might be your last time on the field. This is the last time, so just give everything you have.'"

That intensity derives from practice and starts well before it. Before coach Alex Pagnotta's arrival, the Gladiators play wall ball for 30 minutes and then head to the field for warmups, which often include ladder work to increase foot speed, a component of their precise practice schedule.

A consistent practice regimen ensures that the Gladiators maximize each drill. However, beyond drill repetition, Glenelg emphasizes the importance of understanding the details, helping prepare for any potential game situation. Pagnotta will often add unexpected wrinkles to practice, including adding an extra attacker during a defensive drill or an extra defender during an offensive drill.

"We're trying to be that hungry dog that's out there, not just resting on our laurels and taking plays off," Pagnotta said after the regional final win over River Hill on May 13. "We're trying to bring that intensity. So, it starts with practices, and we talk about it in practice that, 'You don't get a play off'. What we do in practice translates to the game, so we're trying to reinforce that all the time."

These sorts of adjustments foster an intense competitive environment, which the Gladiators feed off. It also gives them a collective sense of calm come game time because practice is often more stressful.

"We're trying to emphasize and construct practice in a way that when there is a turnover, we recognize it," Pagnotta added. "We'll do something different other than just starting the play over, whether it's bringing in new players or something along those lines to recreate the intensity and stress of a game-type situation."

That unique blend of calmness and intensity shined through Tuesday. Glenelg controlled the draw circle early in large part because of Henson and Kelsey Berry. The Gladiators were then off and running, either dodging around Lions defenders or methodically working the ball around for the right shot.

Defensively, it was a similar story. Behind incessant communication, Glenelg's defense smothered the Lions, holding them scoreless from the late stages of the first quarter to late in the fourth. The Gladiators created several turnovers on the ride, making a state championship game look like an ordinary practice.

The communication was so constant that even Queen Anne's leading scorer, junior midfielder RJ Ensor, took notice.

"I could hear them talking to each other the whole time ... back and forth, back and forth," she said. "'Who's sliding, who's cutting and when.' It's pretty impressive. They're a high-momentum team. When they get going, they get going."

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Tuesday afternoon's game brought a different set of emotions, particularly for the program's 10 seniors. Many of them suffered gut-wrenching regional final losses each of the past three years to Century (twice) and Manchester Valley.

After leaping over that hurdle, Glenelg knew it was 48 minutes away from making its moment. Callahan and fellow assistant coach Courtney Renehan, who won state titles in 2016 and 2017, helped provide a sense of calm.

"They're constantly there for us on the sidelines," senior goalie Emily Altshuler said. "When we're coming off the field or coming on, they always have something positive to say that will fuel us or calm us down. We definitely can thank them and every single person on this team and coaching staff for getting us here."

A past legend of the program, Renehan wanted all the focus on the current Gladiators. This year's senior group hopes they've laid the foundation for the start of the next potential dynasty moving forward.

"Before the game, Courtney said, 'I'm tired of hearing about the three-peat when we were here, I want it to be about 2024,'" senior defender Lara Hoeflich said. "These seniors are going to start it off and then we want this team that we're leaving to go on a run after this. It's going to be amazing."

Glenelg's Ava Karbacka, right, shoots against Queen Anne's Ava Fields in the fourth quarter. Glenelg defeated Queen Anne's 13-3 to win Class 2A state girls lacrosse championship at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Glenelg's Emmy Dello Russo, right, scores against Queen Anne 's goalie Maddie George, left, in the second quarter of Class 2A state girls lacrosse championship at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Glenelg's is Kamryn Henson, left. gets past t hr defensive effort by Queen Anne's Faith Novak, right, to score in the second quarter of Class 2A state girls lacrosse championship at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Glenelg's Kamryn Henson, right, celebrates her goal against Queen Anne's in the Class 2A state championship game at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Glenelg's Maggie Metz, left, shoots past Queen Anne's Taylor Brown to score in the first quarter of Class 2A state girls lacrosse championship at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Glenelg girls lacrosse players celebrate after defeating Queen Anne's, 13-3, to win the Class 2A state title at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Glenelg players celebrate with championship trophy after defeating Queen Anne's 13-3 to win Class 2A state girls lacrosse championship at Stevenson University. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)