As Gaithersburg's undefeated regular season was heading into its stretch run, Coach Michele Dillingham and her players created a catch phrase for winning the county's White Division title: Earning their cake.
After accomplishing that feat, the team figured any cake needs icing, which it applied by defeating Magruder to win the 4A West Region title. And to top it all off, the Trojans did something no Gaithersburg volleyball team had accomplished: They won a state title.
After rallying from two games down to edge longtime nemesis Broadneck in a semifinal match, Gaithersburg swept Dulaney in three games on Nov. 17 to complete a 19-0 season and hand Dillingham her first title in her 17th year as the Trojans' coach.
"It's been a real exciting time for us -- the girls, the whole school, the parents -- it's been a dream," Dillingham said. . . . "We were destined to win this year and I believe from [the beginning of the season] it was our year."
Reaching the state tournament is nothing new for Gaithersburg. The Trojans were making their fourth appearance since 2000 and, in facing Broadneck, this postseason seemed to be following a familiar storyline. In 2002, Gaithersburg was swept in a semifinal by Broadneck -- the third straight season they had been eliminated by the Bruins.
Only one player remained in the lineup from the 2002 team -- senior defensive specialist Sarah Lagler -- but Dillingham said her players knew of the team's history with Broadneck. So when they let leads slip away in the first two games of this year's semifinal, it seemed that Gaithersburg was on its way to another early exit. Dillingham, however, said that for whatever reason -- call it a hunch or a veteran coach's intuition -- she knew that a comeback was in order.
And that's exactly what happened. Senior setter Amanda Krampf found her rhythm and connected with senior outside hitter Sarah Fillmore for 17 kills -- including two in the deciding fifth game -- as the Trojans won, 23-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-8.
"I don't think anyone in the gym, except for those 15 girls and the coaches, thought we would come back," Dillingham said. "But we knew it."
Dillingham impressed on her team one piece of advice entering the state final: Relax and enjoy the moment. And unlike the previous match, the outcome of this match was rarely in doubt.
The Trojans rolled to a 25-16, 25-16, 25-21 victory fueled by Krampf's 20 assists and junior Kaitlin Straiter's 11 kills.
"I was smiling the whole time," Dillingham said. "I knew it would happen and I just wanted to slow it down and enjoy it."