Girls volleyball: 'Absolutely euphoria' for Libertyville
One point from having to play a decisive set, and minus a bedridden teammate who normally would be cheering loudly, Libertyville's volleyball players found a way to win.
They staved off that third set, too.
"It's absolutely euphoria," Libertyville middle hitter Cassidy Jones said after she and her top-seeded Wildcats held off No. 2 Cary-Grove 25-18, 27-25 to capture the Class 4A Warren sectional championship on Wednesday night. "It's insane. My head is full with like every emotion you can think of. It's an emotional time."
One reason for the rampant emotions was that Maria Kavathas, one of four Libertyville seniors (Jones, Claire Taranowski, Ellie Dapier), was home with bronchitis. Kavathas is a backup defensive specialist, but her value is immeasurable to her teammates.
"She's pure energy," Jones said. "She really wanted to come tonight."
Maybe Kavathas will be at Fremd on Friday night, when Libertyville (30-9) faces the host Vikings (35-4) at 6 p.m. in the Fremd supersectional.
"We didn't want it to be the last game and her not be here," junior setter Peyton O'Brien said after the Wildcats won their 13th sectional title in school history and first since 2014, when they hoisted the second-place trophy in Class 4A. "We really fought for her."
After overcoming a 6-1 deficit in the opening set against Cary-Grove (28-11), finishing it off thanks in part to a kill by Kellie Hopper and an arching ace by O'Brien, Libertyville found itself trailing late in the second. A block by Evynn Layshock (2 kills, 3 blocks) had the Trojans up 24-20 and ready to force a third set with lefty Jenna Splitt unleashing her wicked jump serve. But the Wildcats won the point thanks to a block by O'Brien and then got strategic when they saw C-G setters Splitt and Lauren Passaglia in the back row.
"I think they were in a rotation that was tough for them, and we served really aggressively at them in that rotation when they were trying to figure out who they wanted to pass the ball," Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. "That worked out to get us some transitional balls that we were super aggressive with. We talked in our timeout that we're not letting that set end with an error on our side or something soft. We were going to go super hard at them and make them earn that 25th point."
Enter Hopper. The junior outside hitter buried 3 of her team-high 8 kills down the stretch, tooling the block on her final one to end the match.
"Instead tipping there at the end, she was swinging hard at the block, got two tools," Loika said. "That was huge because if you tip there, their defense is ready for that. They're going to put it away and we're going three (sets), and you don't know what happens."
C-G's hard-hitting duo of Splitt and Passaglia finished with 6 and 3 kills, respectively. Passaglia jump-served back-to-back aces in the opening set.
For Libertyville, the 6-foot O'Brien tallied 15 assists, 4 kills, 3 blocks and 8 digs. Ella Schaffnit contributed 6 kills and 9 digs, Olivia Sauers also had 9 digs, and Jones and Kaylie Stuteville each posted a pair of blocks.
"We've struggled this whole season coming out the second set as strong as we do the first set," O'Brien said. "We have gone to three games a lot when it probably shouldn't have. Especially in the postseason, we've been focusing a lot on that, just pushing through the entire game, not letting (the opponent) come back and just fighting for every ball."