Libertyville setter Teddy Kopacz pointed to the stands at Warren. There was former Mundelein setter Ryan Sullivan. He had played on a Mustangs team that reached the state tournament in the spring of 2007.
“He told us it was so much fun to go Downstate,” Kopacz said.
Why was there all this postseason talk to a Libertyville boys volleyball team seeded seventh in the Warren Sectional? They were supposed to lose in a regional match and move on to summer vacation.
Something special happened late in the volleyball season to the likes of Matt Tassler, Eric Handrich, Brandon Leatherwood, Bryan Bonamarte, Stefan Vidovich, Scott Cooper and Kopacz. They suddenly became a very difficult team to beat.
“We really wanted to live up to our potential,” Kopacz said.
Was it the announced retirements of coaches Steve Rochon and Cindy Sullivan that surged this club on? Or was it a club that suddenly figured out it could be good?
“This was a team that struggled at the beginning,” Rochon said. “They really hadn't beaten anybody of any consequence. Even when we were winning, we didn't look great.”
Then playoffs began. Libertyville stopped Mundelein on May 24 and nobody noticed.
And in a stunning upset, Libertyville knocked second-seeded Barrington 22-25, 25-17, 25-22.
Rochon noted his team played very well that night to win the Mundelein Regional.
“That night was very gratifying,” he said. “As this team has worked really hard for months and has remained a committed and close-knit group. That night was the first dividend check from their efforts. It was sweet.”
The run of upsets wasn't over. Next up for Libertyville was the Warren Regional on May 27. The foe would be Stevenson. The Patriots beat the Wildcats three times this season. The fourth meeting wasn't that close. Libertyville (24-18) avenged those three defeats with a 25-23, 25-18 win.
“We really came together as a team,” Tassler noted. “We had a lot of potential at the beginning of the season. Now we are seeing a glimpse of that potential.”
There was now one match before the state tournament. That came on May 31. And upstart Libertyville took game one from another talented club from Vernon Hills.
“They gave us a little scare,” said Vernon Hills hitter Thomas Robinson. “We had beaten them pretty good earlier.”
This amazing run died in the sectional title game. VH rallied to post a 19-25, 25-18, 25-18 victory.
Rochon and Sullivan will hand the keys of this team off to a new coach next season.
“The next coach will get a tremendous group of guys,” Rochon said. “They will start from scratch but they know what it takes.”
Graduation will take its toll as slugger Handrich and blocker Bonamarte have played their last match. They will have to find a replacement for underrated libero Scott Cooper. Also headed out are Eric Banduch and Keegan McAuliffe.