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Loyola rallies in third set to sweep St. Paul's in volleyball

Loyola Blakefield used a few tweaks instead of a complete overhaul of its lineup to turn the tables on St. Paul's on Friday evening in Towson.

After falling to the Crusaders late last month, 3-2, the Dons rallied from an 11-6 deficit in the third set to pull out a 25-23 verdict and a 3-0 sweep.

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Loyola claimed the first two sets by 25-23 and 25-16 scores to up its record to 9-5 and while strengthening its grip on the fourth seed in the upcoming Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs.

"It was huge," said Loyola senior co-captain and outside hitter Colin Llewellyn about the victory. "We really would like to have that fourth seed."

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St. Paul's (7-8) will now battle Calvert Hall (6-8) for the final playoff spot, even though the Crusaders were hoping to get by Loyola to make their job a lot easier.

Despite giving a strong effort in the first set and taking an 18-17 lead on senior Brendan Connolly's kill, St. Paul's could not quite keep up with the Dons' front-row firepower that was emphasized by Llewellyn's kill that abruptly ended the set in Loyola's favor.

The second set is when Loyola coach Tim Baier's minor adjustment began paying major dividends after moving junior Liam Hogan to the front row and allowing senior Kyle Albornoz to have more of a defensive impact on the match.

Hogan responded with three kills in the set as Loyola built a 14-6 advantage after Hogan and Llewellyn rifled back-to-back kills and St. Paul's volleyed a shot long.

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Baier said that Albornoz's deft passing, accurate serving and tough defensive play prompted the move. So did Hogan's recent improvement.

"Liam has been playing well in practice lately," he said. "So I thought we'd give him a couple of swings on the outside."

Those swings produced five more kills in the final set that helped the Dons crawl out of a 12-7 hole. His final kill ended the match as emphatically as Llewellyn's closed the opening set.

Of course, senior Ryan Floyd also elevated his game — literally — to help Loyola overcome the deficit.

Although the middle hitter gave away several inches in height to St. Paul's counterpart Daniel Wilson, Floyd went toe-to-toe well off the floor with Crusaders' most imposing performer, even blocking a couple of the big man's spikes.

That's not to say Wilson was a shrinking violet. His nine kills kills were only two less than team leader Connolly, who also had a couple of dinks to his credit.

Still, for Floyd to put up such a spirited fight gave the Dons a big boost.

"Ryan has always had a really nice spike," Baier said. "But now he's learning that it's just as good to be a middle blocker as it is to be a middle hitter. That really helps us as a team."

St. Paul's coach Jim Jung said he was pleased with his team battling back in the the third set after a less than stellar showing in the middle set.

"We're happy we got back into it," said Jung, whose team is only in its second season competing against former A Conference programs. "And we've had a pretty good year. We split with Calvert Hall and Loyola, so we're doing pretty well playing against these guys."

Meanwhile, Loyola, which has won six titles in the last decade, is on the prowl for another crown.

"When we play at our highest level, we can be better than anybody else," Llewellyn said. "We just need to be more consistent."

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