Earlier this year, Glen Burnie volleyball coach Juanita Murdock-Milani recalled what senior Stacey Gilligan was like four years ago as a 14-year-old freshman on the junior varsity squad.
"She was kind of quiet, but on the court she talked with her hands," Murdock-Milani said of 1990's Anne Arundel County Sun Volleyball Player of the Year.
Gilligan, who was moved up to the varsity for the regional tournament during her freshman season, certainly has come a long way from when she first was introduced to playing volleyball as an timid eighth-grader at Corkran Junior High.
Today, the 5-foot-9 Gilligan has an arsenal of talents, including an overall court awareness, great decision-making skills, an ability to read blocks and a resilience at the net that enables her to overpower even the tallest of opposing teams.
Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar said she is the standard by which all players in the county are measured.
"Her technique is so good, you could videotape her and use her as an example to other players, like this is how you set the ball, this is how you hit and this is how you pass," he said.
Also, she's quick to console a teammate for a mistake or to congratulate one for a good play.
"Everybody looks to Stacey as a role model," team captain Melanie Scharf said. "She's always encouraging everybody to do their best. She works hard and if she's got a goal, she's going to get it. But she's my best friend, so I'm prejudiced."
And for someone whose friends use words like "calm," "relaxed" and "quiet" to describe her off-court demeanor, Gilligan -- with one booming kill after another -- makes her message loud and clear on the volleyball court.
"I'm one of the louder people on the court when we play," said Gilligan, a B-average student at Glen Burnie who will turn 17 three days after Christmas. "I may be quiet around strangers, but I don't think I'm as quiet as people think I am."
She drove that point home in the Gophers' Class 4A state championship match against Oxon Hill, including a vicious spike for the match-winning point in the third and final game, a 15-6 victory over the top-seeded Clippers (17-1).
As usual, Gilligan turned in a killer performance that impressed several fans, including Dunbar, who was in the stands for the game.
"Glen Burnie (18-0) was down, 9-0, and then it was just set the ball to Stacey and kill, kill, kill," he said. Oxon Hill "just couldn't stop her: She hit around their blocks, over their blocks, through their blocks. She puts the ball on the floor from anywhere on the court. She also played good defense and was all over the floor."
Dunbar speaks from experience. Gilligan dominated his team in a regular-season match in which his six-time county champion Falcons had their 87-game regular-season winning streak snapped.
Gilligan had 192 kills and 15 blocks this season. Using a finesse-oriented floater serve instead of the power serve she used a year ago, she was her team's most consistent server, getting 95.6 percent (262-of-274) of her serves over the net. Gilligan was third best on the team with 47 aces.
She has had similar success at Glen Burnie throughout her varsity career.
As a sophomore, Gilligan served 83 percent with 121 kills and was chosen as a second-team All-County player. In her junior season, Gilligan had an 87 percent success rate from the service line, with 31 aces and 93 kills, and was a first-team All-County selection as well as an All-Metro team member in The Washington Post.
She is being recruited by eight different colleges, including Virginia Commonwealth, West Virginia, East Carolina, Duquesne and Drexel universities. During the next month, she'll begin playing for the Washington area's elite Capital Volleyball Club.
"All this year I've been working for that state championship," Gilligan said. "Now I'm resetting my goals for the future."