Girls volleyball: Libertyville wins Pifer invite with 3-set thriller over St. Viator
The last time Greg Loika brought his Libertyville girls volleyball team to the Sandy Pifer girls volleyball invite at Prospect High School was 2012 when the Wildcats were winning a fourth straight title.
He was back with his 11th team on Saturday and the Wildcats didn't miss a beat in their return.
They won all their pool play matches in two sets, then took a dramatic three-set match from St. Viator 25-12, 17-25, 17-15 to win their first tourney championship of the season.
"It feels amazing to win it all," said Wildcats junior OH Keira Kasten, who led with 9 kills against the Lions. "We were constantly blocking and swinging for open spots."
"Nine kills for Keira was huge with the defense keying on her," Loika said. "We also knew we needed to get the ball to our middles who combined for 8 kills."
Senior Kelly Hutchins had 5 kills and Ashley Bradford added 3.
"That really opens up things for the rest of our players," said Loika, whose assistant Jenny Smith starred at Prospect. "We missed only three serves (vs. Viator) so that was something we really focused on with only one match in almost two weeks. We trust our defense so when we serve in and tough, we like that advantage."
"It feels so great to play like this today," said Hutchins, whose team went above .500 for the first time (10-8). "I think our team just built momentum all day. Winning the first few matches just pushed us to keep trying harder."
The Wildcats locked up their seventh straight win when Macy Schaffnit served for the final two points, getting a kill from Olivia Powell and a hitting error for match point.
The Lions, whose only other loss was to Oswego East, improved to 19-3. They led 14-11 in set 3, thanks to a kill by senior Marie Torosian and service point by Mary Grace Lynch. They led 15-14 on a kill by Lilly LaFleur.
However, the Wildcats scored the final 3 points, starting with a sideout kill by Kasten that brought Schaffnit to the service line where she closed it out.
"It was a fantastic match," said Lions coach Charlie Curtin, whose team is 19-3 with championships in the West Chicago and St. Viator tourneys. "We struggled in the first set, but came out and played with pride and energy in the second. Losing 17-15 in the third set of the championship match is something we should be proud of."
Torosian had 8 kills in the final two sets.
"We just told her to stay aggressive," Curtin said about a timeout in the second set. "When she is on, it is hard for people to stop her."
The Lions stopped Crystal Lake South (14-1), handing the top-ranked Class 3A team its first loss.
"Marie (Torosian) led us in kills and Marcelina Gorny (junior MH) played a very good tourney," Curtin said. "She always brings the energy and the excitement. She is a competitor and doesn't back down to anyone."
"I thought we fought really hard," said Gorny, who had three straight kills in the second set to give Viator a 9-7 lead. "I don't think they wanted it more than us. Honestly, it was just the smallest errors that cost us and we will work on fixing those. I think our team is probably the strongest in a long time. We love each other a lot and no matter what happens we always have each other back."
Crystal Lake South took third place with a two-set win over Lake Park.
"Our middles (seniors Regillio and Megan Langdon) being able to attack and give us a nice variety of offenses really helped," said Gators coach Jori Fontana. "Being able to get touches on the block and slow down teams we hadn't seen all season was a huge help for us to get some momentum for the day."
It was the Gators' first tourney of the season.
"We got better throughout the day," Fontana said. "And I was happy to see our strongest and most energetic play by the end."
Lake Park went 3-2 and now stands at 11-13 for coach Brian Fischer, who replaced Prospect grad Tom Bergen as the Lancers head girls coach.
"We are definitely happy with where we are," Fischer said before the third-place match.
The Lancers had their best placing Saturday in three tourneys this season.
"I think we are just trying to continue to work together to make it a team effort."
Prospect (10-7) went 3-2 on Saturday, falling only to champion Libertyville and Lake Park.
"I thought we did a nice job," said Knights coach Laura Gerber, whose team defeated Oswego East, Rockford Jefferson and Palatine. "It's nice to have both our outsides (Cam Mather and Shelby Hiskes) back from ankle injuries. I thought Julia Wydro (junior MH) did a real nice job in the middle and our defense was strong. "
The Knights, however, have lost senior MH Lauren Wiley for an extended time with an ankle injury she suffered against Hersey on Thursday.