With her match-high 11 kills, Cornell recruit Alex Basler served as the cleanup hitter for Libertyville's girls volleyball team on Monday night at Hersey.
When the match was over, the visiting Wildcats had hit a home run with their 25-11, 21-25, 25-19 victory over 11-time defending Mid-Suburban East champion Hersey in both teams' season openers at the Ken Carter Gymnasium.
"It was good, rocky and then good," said Libertyville coach Greg Loika describing his team's three sets. "It was kind of like we were backed off the plate by a pitch in the second set, then we stepped back into the batter's box for the third set and showed our intestinal fortitude and good mental personality."
The Wildcats rallied from 5-2 and 7-4 deficits in the final set, taking the lead for good at 10-9 on a service point by sophomore libero Morgan O'Brien.
Basler then blocked an over pass for a kill to make it 11-9 and Libertyville never looked back.
"We ended the second set with some momentum," said Basler, who also had 4 blocks and 4 aces. "Then we really started to connect in the third set. It's always an evenly-matched contest when we play Hersey. It's a big rivalry match and it's good to see where we stand early in the season against a good team."
Basler was standing near the net many times when she took her cue from senior setter Lizzie Apgar, who had 31 assists along with 3 kills and a block.
Apgar's other favorite target was junior outside hitter Erin Dunleavy (8 kills, 10 digs and 1 block).
"It was a real strong match for everyone," Loika added. "Alex (Basler) will get a lot of sets all the time but Erin Dunleavy did a great job of taking advantage of the sets she was getting."
Also connecting for key kills for the visitors were sophomore Anna Lillydahl (4 kills, 2 blocks), junior Hannah Zerwas (5 kills, 1 block) and sophomore Sinead Prentiss (3 kills, 6 digs).
Junior middle blocker Annika Hawkinson added 3 blocks while the defense was sparked by O'Brien (18 digs) and senior defensive specialist Eryka Jones (8 digs).
Dictating the tempo early, the Wildcats raced to an 8-1 lead, including 3 early aces from Basler.
"They sure have a nice middle hitter (Basler)," said Hersey coach Nancy Lill, who is beginning her 25th season with more than 820 wins. "Alex did a real nice job.
"Libertyville is a good team. Give them credit. They're big, possess good ball control and they play good defense. I'm sure they'll have a strong season."
Hersey had a strong second set, taking its biggest lead at 22-14 following a kill by New Hampshire recruit Gabrielle Olhava.
The senior middle hitter and junior Liz Fuerst each led Hersey with 5 kills while senior Courtney Stedman collected 11 setting assists, 4 blocks and 8 digs.
"The first set was all jitters," Lill said. "And we couldn't get any offense going because we couldn't pass.
"Paige (Pannozo, who had 15 digs) did great passing for us in the final two sets. She played stellar defense and great serve receive. Give Libertyville credit, too. They were ripping serves at us."
Katie Rozanski and Kelly Hill each added 2 kills for the Huskies while teammate Caity Strozewski contributed 7 digs, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a kill.
Rozanski suffered a foot cramp at the start of third set.
"That hurt us, too," Lill said. "Joslyn Kerman (senior outside hitter) really stepped up an played some great defense.
"We have a ways to go. It's only day one. We have a lot of look forward to and this was a good learning experience for us."
Stedman experienced an emotional match.
"Her grandfather (Edward) died this summer and he was a true Hersey volleyball super fan," Lill said. "He had never missed a match so this was real emotional for Courtney."
The Huskies will visit Hinsdale Central on Wednesday while Libertyville hosts the Crosstown Classic this weekend.
""Hersey is always a good test for us," Loika added. "It's nice to play such a good team to start the season. I'm confident we'll see them again down the road. Our paths always seem to to cross again."