For Stacy Gilligan, the similarities are incredible.

At 5-foot-9,she's one of five freshman starters on the volleyball team at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University.

But she's made such an immediate impact that the Lady Dukes -- who were 6-24 over the last two years -- already are envisioning an Atlantic 10 championship in their future.

Glen Burnie coach Juanita Milani likewise envisioned glory, five years ago, when she first saw Gilligan, then "a quiet little freshman who talked with her hands" on the volleyball court.

Milani's dream came true last fall when Gilligan led the talented, senior-laden Gophers to an 18-0 season and Milani's first Class 4A state title in her 13 years of coaching.

So far, Duquesne is riding Gilligan's history of success.

"Stacy's thekeystone of our team. She's the glue that holds things together," said second-year coach Jeff Yurko, whose Lady Dukes (8-4) visit American University's Bender Arena for a non-league game at 7:30 tonight andface George Washington University in tomorrow's conference opener.

"Whether she wanted to or not, Stacy's inherited the role of the leader. The girls have kind of rallied around her and if she has an offday, it's obvious."

Two weeks into the season, the Lady Dukes were 4-0, with Gilligan's .398 hitting efficiency ranking first in the Atlantic 10 and eighth in the country. In kills, she ranked second in the league.

Last week, the Lady Dukes went 3-2. Gilligan, an outside hitter, had what Yurko called "an average week for Stacy," but theleague coaches thought enough of her 127 digs, nine blocks, five service aces and 63 kills (in 148 attempts) to select her as the "Freshman of the Week."

After 11 matches (42 games), Gilligan averaged a team-high 3.5 kills and 3.45 digs per game and ranked fourth on the team with 20 services aces.

In Wednesday's 15-5, 15-5, 15-12 victory over St. Francis College, Gilligan had what Yurko called "her typical day."

"She only played 2 1/4 games," said Yurko. "But she was 10-for-15 in kills and had 22 defensive digs -- that's better than seven digs a game, which is tops in the Atlantic 10. She also had four service aces."

Only middle hitter Jennifer Vuich, a 5-11 freshman from Pennsylvania, and 5-10 sophomore Lauren Nilsen of Shirley, N.Y., are taller than Gilligan on a squad that relies on a varied attack ofdigs, cross-court volleys and strong defense.

"In high school, itwas pretty easy to get the ball over the net," said Gilligan, an education major who turns 18 three days after Christmas. "Now, I'm learning to hit around and through the blocks. I'm hitting at sharper angles, like with cross-court hitting."

After watching Gilligan play in the second game of the season, Gilligan's roommate, Nicki Comer, "was in awe."

"I've never seen that kind of power-hitting from a girl in my area -- ever," said Comer, 18, a former volleyball player at Frankfurt High in Fort Ashbe, W.Va.

As a high school freshman, Gilligan was promoted to Glen Burnie's varsity team for the regional tournament. As a sophomore, she became a second-team All-County, servingat 83 percent with 121 kills. Her junior year included first-team All-County and All-Metro honors in The Washington Post, with an 87 percent service rate (31 aces) and 93 kills.

As a senior, Gilligan's totals rose to 192 kills and 15 blocks. She switched from a power serve to a finesse-oriented floater and became the Gophers' most consistent server, converting 95.6 percent of her serves with 47 aces.

"I saw Stacy as a diamond in the rough -- but she was a gem," said Yurko, who won a recruiting battle with nine other schools for Gilligan, including Atlantic 10 power Penn State. The Nittany Lions had capturedthe last eight league titles before joining the Big 10 for the 1991 season.

But what lured Gilligan to Duquesne is that while the other big programs wanted her, the Lady Dukes needed her.

"We were a very weak program," Yurko said. "So some people who have seen us play are shocked that we're doing so well. They're also very surprised to see that we have someone of Stacy's ability playing here. As far as Iknow, she's got one of the biggest scholarships on the team."

Milani said, "I remember the coach from Penn State was really wishy-washy about her at first. But I knew all along that Stacy was capable of playing with the best teams out there."

If Gilligan's success comes as a surprise to anyone, it is to herself.

"I knew Duquesne wasn't very good in the past, but I had no idea that I'd be leading the team," Gilligan said. "It's kind of like when I was a freshman at GlenBurnie. The team is young and we're very close knit. Maybe when we're seniors, or in a couple of years, we can do what we did at Glen Burnie."

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