Boys volleyball: Libertyville continues improbable postseason run

The giant killers did it again.

For the third time in the 2022 boys volleyball postseason, fourth-seeded Libertyville knocked off a No. 1.

Earlier in the playoffs, Stevenson and then Rockton Hononegah, both top seeds, fell victim to the Wildcats in the Warren sectional.

And Friday in the state quarterfinals, Libertyville defeated No. 1 seed Oak Park-River Forest 17-25, 25-23, 25-15 to advance.

The Wildcats return to Hoffman Estates at 10 a.m. Saturday to face Glenbard West in the semis.

"As soon as we started serving aggressive, everything else just fell in line," said Libertyville coach Jenny Smith. "We had a couple of guys hitting great - Patrick (Akers) and Oliver (Sikora) were just lights out."

It was also the third straight match in the tournament that the Wildcats lost the first set, then rallied to take the next two.

"These guys can come back from anything," said Smith of her squad, which improved to 22-13 on the year. "You don't want to lose the first set, but I wasn't too worried. I knew our guys were going to be able to step up, fight, and play with passion."

Akers, a senior outside hitter, credited team bonding for the spirited playoff run.

"I can say confidently that this is the most pasta parties, team gatherings, that I've had with any team leading up to this," said Akers. "Things like that sometimes get overlooked, but our team camaraderie has actually been a big part of it."

Akers added that he and his teammates really started to gel during the sectional title win over Rockton, a match where they had to stave off six match points in set two to survive.

"I don't think we ever lacked chemistry," he said, "but the trust in each other we experienced in the Hononegah game is really what got us a whole lot closer."

After dropping set one Friday, Libertyville made amends in the second set, where they played an extraordinary defensive game.

With Oak Park trying to rally from a deficit, outstanding floor digs from senior Mack Imm and Reece Wiatrowski saved a point and extended the lead to 19-12.

A tip kill at 24-23 for the second set win by Sikora helped the Wildcats stave off another Huskies comeback, then Libertyville stormed out of the gate in the deciding game.

Akers led the way in set three, and when he hit a kill off the block, the Wildcats led 17-8.

Oak Park could get only as close at 20-14, then Libertyville kills from Braden Andersen, Chase Bonder and Aleks Slesers, a Huskies error, and a final block from Bonder closed out the victory.

Junior Luis Correa finished with 19 assists for the Wildcats. Wiatrowski led the team with 7 digs, while Akers had 12 kills.

And after the match, Akers reflected again on what this season has meant to him.

"We're playing not only for ourselves now, but also for each other," said the senior. "That's a big contributing factor."

"We've definitely become a family. I know that this is a team that I'll remember for the rest of my life."

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