By Joshua Welge
NORMAL -- Wide-eyed, big-smiled, Libertyville senior Kristen Webb didn't wear the look of a girl who just lost her last high-school match.
She knew her team left it on the line.
Going point-for-point with a program steeped in volleyball pedigree, the Wildcats fell to Mother McAuley 25-22, 25-22 in Saturday's Class 4A third-place match at Redbird Arena.
"I'm not upset right now. I'm so proud of these girls," Webb said. "We set a goal at the beginning of the year to get here. From Day 1 of practice we said we wanted to go to state. That just seemed so far off, so far away. We took those steps and made it a reality. I'm not sad."
Libertyville's fourth-place finish is the school's second trophy in state volleyball, matching the fourth from 2007. The Wildcats ended up their season 34-8.
"I'm proud of the girls," Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. "It didn't end the way they wanted it to end, but they made me proud, they made the town of Libertyville proud and they made our program proud."
Both games Saturday somewhat mirrored each other.
In both Libertyville got down midway through the games, fought back to take brief leads but couldn't quite finish.
In Game 1 McAuley (36-5) got ahead 11-6 on a kill by Courtney Joyce, and still led 19-17. Libertyville pulled even 19-19 on a pretty flick of a dump shot by setter Cindy Zhou, and went ahead 22-20 on consecutive McAuley errors.
Out of a timeout, though, Libertyville served into the net, then was whistled for two straight hitting errors. Kills by McAuley's Gabrielle Ennis and Maggie Scanlon ended it.
"Kind of been the story of our year," laughed McAuley coach Jen DeJarld.
McAuley broke out to an 11-7 lead in Game 2, three kills by Ryann DeJarld setting the tone. It got all the way to 19-15, before Libertyville answered with a 5-0 run, taking a 20-19 lead on back-to-back aces by Vicky Liu.
The two teams played to numerous long rallies during the stretch, Zhou and company repeatedly digging out McAuley hard hits. Zhou had 7 digs to go with her 16 asissts, Webb 20 digs.
"Our defense was crazy good," Loika said.
Tied at 22-22, McAuley grabbed the lead for good on an Ennis kill. Ennis, seldom-used in McAuley's last seven matches, came up huge with 5 kills.
"She's been champing at the bit," DeJarld said of her 6-foot middle, "and she did a wonderful job. She really gave us a lot of energy."
Julia Smagacz finished with 7 kills, Taylor Zant 4 and Rhiannon Prentiss 4 for Libertyville.
McAuley, playing five sophomores, won its 24th trophy in volleyball -- a state record.
The Wildcats could have conceivably won both their matches this weekend. On Friday they took the first set from eventual champion Benet, and led 15-10 in the second. Nobody could fault the girls' effort.
"We lost to two really great teams," Webb said. "Benet and McAuley, they're great teams and we fought hard. It could have gone either way."
"We should have no regrets," Zhou chimed in. "We played our hearts out."