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updated: 11/8/2012 9:18 PM

Libertyville knows its place

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  • Libertyville's Julia Smagacz, left, celebrates with Kristen Webb during the Wildcats' sectional title victory over Palatine at Fremd High School.

       Libertyville's Julia Smagacz, left, celebrates with Kristen Webb during the Wildcats' sectional title victory over Palatine at Fremd High School.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Libertyville's Taylor Zant, center, hits the ball against Palatine during a sectional championship play at Fremd.

       Libertyville's Taylor Zant, center, hits the ball against Palatine during a sectional championship play at Fremd.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 

It refers to neither one of the United States' proud 50, nor an emotional condition.

Truth is, three years ago, as a freshman playing on Libertyville's varsity volleyball team, Kristen Webb was in a state of confusion.

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"I remember freshman year being on (varsity), and a lot of the girls were like, 'Let's go to state. Let's go to state,' " Webb said. "I was like, 'What's state? What is that?' "

The fun-loving, likable libero has come a long way.

"I know where it is now," a smiling Webb said.

"State" is where the Wildcats will find themselves today, as they will play defending state champ Benet Academy at 9 p.m. in a Class 4A state semifinal at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal.

"To be honest, I didn't even know what ('state') meant until this year," senior right side Taylor Zant, Webb's teammate/classmate, said with a sheepish laugh. "You could ask any of my teammates. After every game we won, they would tell me what was next and who we were playing. I just went along with it."

OK, just to "state" what might not be obvious to some: In order for a volleyball team to earn a state berth, it has to win two (or sometimes three) matches in a regional, two matches in a sectional and one in a supersectional. Libertyville's 26-24, 25-23 victory over Prairie Ridge in last Saturday night's Hoffman Estates supersectional secured the Wildcats' first trip to state since 2007 under veteran coach Chris Trzyna.

Webb knows the path -- now.

"When you're a wide-eyed freshman playing on the varsity for the first time, you don't know what the postseason means," Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. "You don't know how many teams there are. You don't know how the brackets work. She's certainly a veteran of that now."

Key word: Now.

"Because freshman year we didn't get very deep, I wasn't exactly sure what was going on," Webb said. "Sophomore year I had a better understanding because we were getting deeper and deeper (in the state tournament). Last year, I knew. This year, we mapped it all out, step by step."

Libertyville (34-6) has a monumental challenge in Benet (38-2), which has won 22 matches in a row. The Redwings' only losses are to Marian Catholic and Marist. Coach Brad Baker owns a 219-23 record in his six seasons.

Benet boasts senior libero Sheila Doyle (North Carolina), setter Hannah Kaminsky and 6-foot-3 middle Brittany Pavich (Boston College). Outside Cara Mattaliano (6-1) has hammered a team-best 383 kills and is also a solid back-row player, while Pavich has pounded 269 kills. Another 6-3 player, sophomore Rachael Fara, has 112 kills and 54 blocks.

Libertyville has not played the Redwings this season.

"They're going to be tough," Loika said. "They're going to test our defense. I know they're strong in the middle."

Libertyville counters with three Division I recruits in Webb (Butler), 5-11 setter Cindy Zhou (Michigan) and outside hitter Julia Smagacz (Akron). Zant and Smagacz are the Wildcats' top hitters with 223 and 215 kills, respectively. The versatile Zhou has dished out 590 assists, while also contributing 176 kills, 59 blocks and a team-leading 39 aces. Webb's 742 digs are a school record. Sophomore middle Alex Basler has a squad-best 117 blocks and 93 kills. Steady senior outside Rhiannon Prentiss counts 153 kills and 303 digs.

The Wildcats also get production from the service line from defensive specialists Vicky Liu (35 aces) and Brooke Donovan (22 aces). Webb has served 33 aces.

Tonight's winner plays in Saturday's 8:55 p.m. state championship match against the winner of today's 7:30 p.m. semifinal between New Trier (38-1) and Mother McAuley (35-4). The third-place match is Saturday at 7:25 p.m.

"The kids wanted it," Loika said as his team celebrated on Hoffman Estates' court after winning the supersectional. "Now we get a shot to go down there and show that we belong."

"There" meaning state, of course.

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