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updated: 10/25/2012 2:29 PM

With Webb and Zhou, Libertyville strikes it rich

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  • Cindy Zhou set the standard for excellence this year at

      Cindy Zhou set the standard for excellence this year at
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Kristen Webb makes a most unconventional shot, the kind that helped propel Libertyville to a North Suburban Conference championship.

      Kristen Webb makes a most unconventional shot, the kind that helped propel Libertyville to a North Suburban Conference championship.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer


Kristen Webb, Libertyville volleyball's all-time digs leader and tenacious libero, refuses to go digging.

Sorry, Rachel Baader.

Surely, somewhere in Webb's pocket, or purse, or volleyball bag, or wherever she stashes her money, she has a $10 bill or a pair of 5's she can dig out.

Baader, Stevenson's injured volleyball star who missed her entire senior season this year due to an ACL injury, is waiting to collect on a bet, smiling no doubt.

Months ago, Webb and Baader, Sky High club volleyball teammates, were talking about the 2012 high school volleyball season, when Webb told Baader she was predicting that Baader would be named captain of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team. Baader wasn't buying it.

"It was obvious to me that all the (all-area captains) in the past had been like Baader -- great leaders, great players, great people," Webb said. "So I was like, 'Baader, it's going to be you. I'll bet you $10.' She said, 'No, it's not. I'll take that bet.' "

Not long afterward, Baader tore her ACL at nationals in Florida, meaning she would miss the high school season. The following week, in Ohio, Baader, who was on crutches but accompanied her club team on the trip anyway, informed Webb that she was going to lose her bet.

"She was talking to me," Webb said. "She's like, 'You owe me $10.' I was like, 'Why?' Because I didn't remember (the bet)."

"Kristen didn't want to pay $10," Libertyville senior and fellow Sky High player Cindy Zhou said with a laugh.

Funny how things work out.

The 5-foot-6 Webb, the dynamite defensive player, and the 5-11 Zhou, the long-framed silky-smooth setter, are the co-captains of the all-area team in Lake County. The pair of four-year varsity starters led Libertyville to its second North Suburban Conference championship in three years and 29 wins during the regular season.

"Great character, both of them," said Greg Loika, who when he became the Wildcats' head coach three years ago made the wonderful decision of putting the two young talents in his starting lineup. "They make it enjoyable to be in (the gym)."

The Daily Herald honor is bittersweet for Webb. Before the Wildcats hosted Stevenson in a regular-season match, she and Zhou gave a speech recognizing Baader, who was moved to tears by the gesture.

"She would have had a fantastic senior season if she was able to play," Webb said. "She's just one of the best players I've ever had the opportunity to play with. I just wanted her to be recognized for that."

Loika knows Webb and Zhou deserve all the recognition they receive. Webb's 629 digs during the regular season smashed her school-record total of 463 she registered in 2010. She's a three-time team captain and four-year all-area pick. Not bad for a girl who wasn't positive she would make the team her freshman year.

"What she does on the court is mind-blowing sometimes, but the off-the-court stuff is what makes her so special," said Loika, who calls Webb "truly selfless" and one of the nicest kids he's ever met.

"Kristen is an amazing defensive player," Zhou said. "Having her on both my high school and club teams, I think sometimes I'm a little spoiled because I know she's going to get all those balls up. I don't have to worry about the defense because I know she's going to get the digs and the passes that we need."

Heading into the season, Loika and Webb mapped out a game plan. Loika, for one, appreciated the moment.

"It was a little emotional, our last time talking about what are we going to do, how are we going to make the season work," Loika said. "The thing I said to her was, 'I want you to leave some footprints and some impressions on some of the players who are behind you, because there's not going to be another you.' "

A Webb gem on the court is typically followed by a "Wow" created by Zhou, whose regular-season numbers included 547 assists, 179 kills and 32 aces. She holds the school record for career assists with more than 2,000.

"She can turn any pass into something crazy good," Webb said. "If I pass really tight and high, she'll just jam it down the other team's throat, pretty much, and get a kill of her own. It's really nice to have that because you're not stressing to have a perfect pass every time."

Zhou, a two-year team captain and three-time all-area choice, gives the Wildcats a luxury.

"My elbows are double-jointed," Zhou said. "It's actually kind of helpful for volleyball because on a lot of balls that are high or are not even on our side of the net, I can actually reach over the net and get the ball before the other team can, without hitting our own net. My elbows reach up and over. It's weird."

"We always make fun of her," Webb said with a laugh. "If she tips to the deep corner, her elbow hyperextends right where the net is, so she won't get called. It's perfect. We're like, 'You're meant to be a volleyball player.' "

Zhou's length comes in handy, too. If the Wildcats can dig a ball, Zhou can likely loft it or send it over the net.

"She's got great timing," Loika said. "She's got a long body, as well, but she times it perfectly to flick (the ball) just over or dump it over the top of blockers when she needs to. It helps to have a setter who's 6-feet tall and can jump, and she does all those things. She saves a lot of balls, gets hitters into good spots and gets kills herself that other setters can't."

"I always trust her to get me a really good set," Libertyville senior outside hitter Julia Smagacz said of Zhou. "She is such a good leader. She's so strong. She's just such a good setter, and I'm really glad we have her because she really holds our team together."

When hitters like Smagacz, Taylor Zant or Rhiannon Prentiss finish an attack, Webb takes pride.

"Every time we get a kill, the stands will (cheer) hard, but it's nice to know it all starts with a pass," Webb said. "Everything comes off the first touch. I always tease my hitters because I'll cover them when they hit and I'll call out line or cross, whatever I see in the block that's open. If I see a hole and I'm like, 'Hole!' and they just jam it down the hole, I'll be like (laughing), 'That was my kill, too. You got to give me some credit here.' We have great hitters, and they're so fun to play with. They just execute really well."

Webb committed to Butler University over the summer. She says it's a school she would want to attend even if she wasn't going to play volleyball.

"As soon as she had decided to commit to Butler, I emailed their coach," Loika said. "I just said, 'You don't even know what you're getting out of this kid.' "

Zhou committed to the University of Michigan following her sophomore high school season, after Ohio State gave her a month to make a decision to accept its offer.

"It's definitely a blessing to be that confident in the school you're going to and to know for so long," Zhou said. "It takes a lot of pressure off you as a player because you don't have to play to impress coaches anymore. You can play for yourself and for the love of the game."

For four varsity seasons, Cindy Zhou and Kristen Webb played with passion. They figure to do the same in college.

Bet on it.

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