Loyola Blakefield senior Alec Dauses has a wicked jump serve that even his own coach, Tim Baier, doesn't know how to handle in practice,
So the coach wasn't totally surprised when he had a Gilman squad, that prides itself on returning serves, on its heels moments after he toed the line for the first time in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game.
But, when he reeled off nine straight rockets, including five aces to stretch the first game lead from 4-3 to 13-3, even the coach was in awe.
Dauses propelled the Dons to a convincing first-game victory on their way to a 25-16, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23 victory at Boys' Latin Friday night for their second consecutive title.
It also completed a perfect 20-0 season, but the coach was more excited about players like Dauses, who led the match with 22 kills and 10 aces.
"I've never seen (a run like that) against such a good team like Gilman," Baier said. "When he gets in a groove like that, he really is hard to stop. I try to pass his serve in practice and I can't do it."
Dauses added six kills in the first game, that included a block and kill from Gerarde Clothier and ended with a pair of blocks by junior Peter Herrick.
Gilman (17-3), which played 10 seniors in the match, recovered in the second game and pulled off a 25-22 victory.
In the second set, middle hitter Brandon Casas had five of his 12 kills and the Greyhounds also got a pair of kills from Tom O'Neill (team-high 15 kills), one each from Galen Rende (11 kills) and Harrison Eberling, and a pair of blocks from Eberling.
"With 10 seniors out there, I'm glad they showed their resilience," Gilman coach Neil Gabbey said. "They have been working four years to be here so I had every confidence that they were going to come back and make it close."
Gilman used its height and the middle setting of Davis Fisher (20 assists) and Brett Brodsky (19 assists) feeding Casas to exploit the Dons weakness.
"Their middles were just unbelievable," Baier said. "We just couldn't stop them."
Baier figured out how to get junior outside hitter Bennett Bradley untracked.
Bradley only had four kills in the first two games, but had 12 in the final two.
"I told him to look to become a shot maker and to stop being a spiker with everything 100 miles per hour," Baier said.
Bradley had the first and last kill of the game off assists from Devin McNamara, who also had his confidence shaken because of several lift calls that were called on both sides of the court.
Two of those called on McNamara trimmed a 24-21 lead to 24-23, but McNamara regrouped and assisted Bradley to stem to comeback.
Dauses also played a pivotal role in building the lead in the third set.
His rare tip tied the set at 17-17, and he followed Bradley's kill with a pair of widowmaker serves that bumped the lead to 20-17.
"I usually do a pretty good jump serve and I was feeling well today with it," Dauses said. "I just felt good about it today. The adrenaline was running and I was excited."
Dauses, a co-captain, was also getting serving support from Blaise Connor and solid defensive help from fellow captain Matt Verderamo.
Verderamo, who had a pancake save earlier in the match, made a desperate save of a ball that led to a Bradley kill with the score tied 21-21 in the fourth game.
"Matt is a three-year starter and I've seen that play 100 times," Baier said. "He's dedicated himself to being a libero, defensive specialist. He just wants to be the best defensive player and he has been for three years."
Gilman's Eli Katz (6 digs) and O'Neill (7 digs) also had strong defensive games to keep the Greyhounds in the match in the fourth set.
But they had no answer for Dauses, who put away the last three Loyola points, including the final one on a bump set from McNamara.
"It was unbelievable," Dauses said after the match-ending kill. "I won a championship last year and that was unbelievable. There is no better feeling in the world."