Libertyville gets winning message
Before every postseason match, the captains of the Libertyville girls volleyball team hand out letters to their teammates.
"They have a little message," said Wildcats junior outside hitter Rhiannon Prentiss. "This time it said. 'Nothing is impossible because in the word impossible is 'i'm-possible.'"
And the Wildcats used those words to the fullest after suffering a heartbreaking loss in Set 1 of the Class 4A Fremd sectional on Tuesday night.
No. 2-seeded Hersey (32-6) rallied from a 21-11 first-set deficit but No. 3 Libertyville won the next two sets to post a dramatic 25-27, 25-17, 25-21 victory in Palatine.
The Wildcats (32-6) advance to Thursday's 6:30 p.m. championship and will face No. 4 Palatine (27-11).
"Losing the way we did in set 1 made us want to fight even harder the next two sets," said Wildcats senior defensive specialist Brooke Donovan, who collected 11 digs.
And the Wildcats fought just like they did to get the 21-11 lead.
"Whenever you have a big lead and go down, you want to come back and prove that you earned that lead," said Prentiss, who had 12 kills and 14 digs. "We used the next two sets to prove it."
Set 2 was tied at 3-3 when Libertyville raced ahead 8-3 with 4 straight service points from Donovan.
The Wildcats led 19-10 on a block by Michigan-bound setter Cindy Zhou before Hersey climbed back to within 20-14.
Libertyville never let Hersey closer than 6 the rest of the set.
The recharged Wildcats and Huskies put on quite show to Set 3. The score was tied five time before Libertyville started to pull away in the high teens.
Consecutive kills by Prentiss gave Libertyville a 16-13 lead.
Zhou's second attack to the deep corner landed safely for a kill that extended the Wildcats lead to 20-14.
The got to match point when Vicky Lui (14 digs) put up a soft kill that dropped in off the net for a 24-18 lead.
Hersey kept battling and got to within 24-20 on a kill by senior Erica Hill off a nifty quick set from Abby Fesl.
A hitting error by Libertyville made it 24-21 before the Wildcats won the match on a net violation.
"The maturity of our girls showed to not roll over after letting the first set get way," said Wildcats coach Greg Loika. "I told them a lot of teams would have rolled over after giving up that first-set lead.
"It was disappointing to lose but I knew when we started out 8-3 in Set 2 that were we OK again, and then the third game was a battle until we pulled away."
In another stellar all-around performance, Zhou contributed 8 kills, 26 assists and 14 digs.
Wildcats libero Kristen Webb collected 32 digs with 8 assists and 2 aces while other top attackers for the winners were Julia Smagacz (12 kills) and Taylor Zant (10) kills).
Trailing 21-11, Hersey used a big 16-4 run to end the first set.
Back-to-back aces by Carly Pisano got the Huskies to within 23-20.
Smagacz's kill gave Libertyville set point (24-22) but Hersey refused to surrender.
Fesl's quick set to Hill tied the set at 24-24. The Huskies tied it again at 25 on a kill by sophomore Courtney Stedham.
The Northern Florida bound Fesl came up with a big block to give Hersey a 26-25 advantage before a hitting error by Libertyville ended the set 27-25.
"We didn't react to their soft offense," said Huskies coach Nancy Lill, whose Huskies won their 10th Mid-Suburban League crown this season and 23rd regional. "We've been an excellent defensive team but this match we just weren't quite at our best.
"Our block was off. They tipped a ton. They swung hard, hit corners and kept us off balance defensively by mixing up their offense."
Hersey's offense was led by Hill (10 kills), Anna Mullen-Muhr (7), Stedman (5), Gabriella Olhava (4) and Liz Fuerst (3).
Fesl handed out 27 assists from 109 attempt while also recording 3 blocks and 15 digs. Taylor Schill started many of the Huskies' attacks with her 30 digs while Allie Mueller had 19.
"We gave it our best shot," Lil said. "It just wasn't meant to be. Our girls showed a lot of character not giving up and fighting to the end.
"Libertyville is an incredible team and obviously played better than us. They deserved to win by playing an outstanding match."
Loika wasn't at all surprised by the battle. His team lost at Hersey in three sets in the season opener.
"This was one of our best defensive matches and Cindy (Zhou) makes the decisions for our attackers and finds the opening herself when we need it.
"Hersey had a great season. Nancy (Lill) and I talked before the match about how great this match could be and it was everything we knew it would be. We were the better team this time. We were happy with the result."
And the Wildcats knew it was possible from the start.
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