The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association will crown a boys volleyball champion tomorrow, and for the first time in the five-year history of the volleyball playoffs, it won't be Calvert Hall.
Third-seeded Loyola made sure of that, posting a thrilling 25-18, 25-21, 16-25, 21-25, 16-14 upset of the second-seeded Cardinals in the first of two semifinals yesterday at John Carroll.
In tomorrow's 7 p.m. final at Villa Julie, the Dons (17-5) will face the tournament's top seed, John Carroll, which cruised to a 25-18, 25-11, 25-11 victory over No. 4 seed Gilman (15-7) in yesterday's nightcap.
But the night clearly belonged to Loyola, which had never beaten Calvert Hall since joining the MIAA volleyball league three years ago.
"It really is amazing," said Dons coach John Riggle, whose team lost to the Cardinals in the final last year. "We have a lot of respect for their team and when we play them, that's always our biggest game. To win in the semifinals, it is icing on the cake."
With senior setter Andrew Baird (48 assists) orchestrating the Dons' offense and senior middle hitter Hyoma Ito (23 kills, five blocks) setting the tone offensively, Loyola took the first two games and appeared in control.
But the Cardinals (19-4) showed their mettle, easily taking Game 3 behind the serving of Joe Daddura and Ryan Dougherty, before tying the match on Jon Zahner's clinching spike in Game 4.
Both teams traded runs in the decisive Game 5, with the Cardinals having a match point at 14-13 before Ito wiped it away with a spike. After a Cardinals passing error, the Dons closed it out when senior Brendan Smith (10 kills) tipped a ball down the line that barely hit the floor and eluded two diving Cardinals defenders.
"This is an awesome feeling," Baird said. "Calvert Hall is our archrival, and we didn't want to lose to them especially after being up 2-0."
Said Cardinals coach Jeff Blake: "[Loyola] played aggressively and we did not communicate, and that cost us some big points."
There was little drama in the second semifinal as the Patriots (21-0) rode standout senior hitter Matt Fritz (17 kills) and senior setter Tyler Tilghman (25 assists and four blocks) to the three-game victory over Gilman.
Brendan Watts added eight kills and three blocks and Seth Beck had six kills for the Patriots, while the Greyhounds were led by senior Jake Dubois' 10 kills and three blocks.
John Carroll beat Loyola twice in the regular season.
"We would have loved to play Calvert Hall, but as long as we win a championship, it doesn't matter," Tilghman said.