Third-seeded Greyhounds knock of top-seeded Loyola in four sets in MIAA volleyball title


by Gary Adornato

Battling a top-seeded and extremely talented Loyola Blakefield squad, third-seeded Gilman played with energy and intensity in Friday evening’s MIAA volleyball title match at St. Paul’s School, to knock of the Dons in four sets and win their third consecutive league crown.

The contest was played before a full house in Brooklandville with the student bodies of both schools boosting the energy and decibel level, as they witnessed the Greyhounds prevail 25-22, 24-26, 25-22, 25-22.

Gilman’s Cameron Alexander scored the winning point for the Greyhounds.

Gilman put the Dons on their heels right off the bat, racing out to an 8-2 lead in the opening set. Senior John McGowan had a couple of kills in the early surge and then had three straight winners off his serve to help the Hounds claim the early six point bulge.

According to McGowan, the fast start was a key.

“Right off the bat we just brought the electricity,” said McGowan. “That was the main thing, sticking together as a team and that was the No. 1 priority.”

The Dons got within three a couple of times in the middle of the opening set, but each time the Greyhounds stretched them out. The lead grew as large as 22-15 before the Dons made a late surge behind five straight service winners by junior Brandon Whitney to pull within one at 22-21.

Gilman, however, stayed poised and changed the momentum with a kill by junior Wallace Halpert. Loyola scored once more, but a serve into net put the Greyhounds back up by two and Jacob Shelby drilled home the final point.

Gilman led most of the second set as well, but its margin was never more than four points. Loyola finally tied it at 18-18 and clubs were tied at every point up through 24-24, before Loyola got a kill from junior Patrick Connor and an ace from Whitney to take the 26-24 victory.

The second set was halted several times due to slippery court conditions and play was stopped during one five minute stretch as officials and coaches conferred about the safety of the court. Heavy rains outdoors and the heat generated by the large crowd contributed to the humidity which made it difficult to keep the floor dry. Eventually large fans were placed at each end of the court and the match continued.

The third set was much like the first, with Gilman jumping out to a huge early lead and Loyola falling short with a late surge. The Greyhounds biggest lead was six, which they held at 14-8 and they still led by five at 23-18.

Loyola’s Sam Clark got a kill to return service to the Dons and Dylan Monaghan won three straight points to cut Gilman’s lead to 23-22. Chase Drew scored to return the ball to Gilman and Noah Abrams served Game Point. Abrams hit a low hard serve which skimmed the top of the net, causing it to change directions just enough that it skidded off of the forearm of Loyola’s Kirk Moessbauer and out of bounds to secure Greyhounds second point, 25-22.

On the ropes, Loyola responded with a fast start in the fourth game and led 12-5 and, later, 15-8. A McGowan kill, however, ignited a stirring comeback for Gilman.

With Halpert serving, Gilman rolled off five straight points to pull within one, at 15-14. Clark slammed home a winner to put Loyola back up by two and a pair of service winners by Clark got the Dons’ a four-point advantage at 19-15.

But, Gilman would not be denied.

The Greyhounds scored eight of the next 10 points to race in front 24-21, before closing out the 25-22 win with a beautifully finessed tip shot by Alexander on match point.

On the play, Alexander rose up in preparation of trying to block another blast from Clark, but quickly recognized the ball was going to be tipped instead of slammed. He was able to adjust and tap the ball downward on the other side of the net, sending the Greyhounds and their fans into a frenzy.

“Sam Clark went up for a tip. I recognized it was a tip and it went down for the game winner,” said Alexander who shared a tearful yet joyful embrace with his coach. “We started off kind of slow in that fourth set, but in the time outs coach told us not to give up and to fix minor things in our formation.

“This means everything to me. I have been in this program for three years and I’ve loved every second of it.”

McGowan said his team did a good job of getting everyone involved.

“My centers did a great job finding me in the first two sets, which opened things up for the other hitters in the third set, and they got back to me in the fourth set,” he said. “It was a great comeback. This is the best win I have ever been a part of.”

Gilman coach Diego Matorras, who completed his third season as Gilman head coach with his third straight championship said it all came down to desire.

“I think we never stopped fighting,” said Mattoras. “Loyola is such a great team. They’re not going to give us any points and the only chance, the only opportunity that we have was just to fight for every ball.”

When asked if this year’s title, won as an underdog, was a little sweeter than the previous crowns captured by the Greyhounds, Matorras did not hesitate.

“It is. It is special, but I am always going to highlight how we do want to win every year, but our main goal is to get better. Every practice, every game we are trying to see how can we get a little better. Yes, we won here, but the main part is that we got better through the season.”

Part of Matorras’ attachment to this team, especially its seniors, comes from a shared journey.

“There is a group of seniors that I started coaching when they were freshman,” said Matorras. “I was the JV coach, so I walked with them through the whole journey. When I moved from JV to varsity they stayed with me. It’s group that I saw their growth. I saw their journey and they know me so well. I love those guys and that’s why I think it was so special for them.”

Loyola coach Tim Baier, despite the seeds, said the best team won.

“Gilman played a great game,” said Baier. “They outplayed us tonight. They deserve it. Their outside opposite hitters (Chase Drew and Cameron Alexander) really dominated the game. They were able to get them the ball and we just couldn’t stop them. Kudos to them. They are a very good team.”

Pictured above: Gilman’s John McGowan, who had a big night as a hitter, prepares to strike a serve.