On paper, it looked to be an excellent match: Amanda Orchard and Layne Self of Lake Zurich heading to Libertyville for a regional title meet with Kristen Webb and Cindy Zhou of the Wildcats.
It lived up to its billing and more. That 28-game winner from Libertyville High School fell short on Thursday night. Rather, fell just short in a thrilling 25-21, 22-25, 28-26 win by the visiting Bears.
“Yeah, tough loss,” said Libertyville coach Greg Loika. “We played great, sometimes with two evenly matched teams the ball just bounces one way or another at the end. That’s the hardest part for the girls. They executed our game plan, the defense and offense played well, we passed well, Cindy ran a great offense, and we just came up short at the very end.”
All Eyes on the Court
Of course, the Wildcats were hurting at the end. Anytime a match goes past 25 points, all eyes are on the court.
“Our girls were understandably disappointed,” Loika said. “That’s because we want to look for what we could have done differently, and honestly, there is nothing we would have done differently. We had a great plan, the girls executed it — and the sliver of difference at the end was one swing.”
Loika pointed out his team began the season with one win in the first four matches, so it is something good to feel about finishing at 28-9.
“We will lose a great senior class,” he said. “Both in their on-court contributions, but more importantly, what this group has meant to our program in terms of their commitment, class, and character.”
The senior class included Nicole Kruckman and Kerry Risley. Graduation also will take away captain Molly Moon, Katie Waehner, Kelly Cypher, Ali Gattone, Eileen Knauff and Kayla Silverman.
Bright Future: Volleyball fans wondered how good the Wildcats would be this year after a brilliant season a year ago that was highlighted by senior outside hitters Paige Hopper and Catie Steffen. Libertyville answered with another big season.
“We were wondering what would become of this year,” he said. “Although disappointing to lose, they have developed the resiliency and determination we talked about all year long. I was so very proud to see how the girls went out and fought last night, and that says a great deal about them.”
Of course the Wildcats can look to those team captains next season. Both setter Zhou and libero Webb will be back as seniors.
“Kristen and Cindy lived up to the billing,” he said. “I think at times they felt the pressure of being the true ‘go-tos’. However they take it all in stride and have been wonderful court leaders, and had excellent seasons and games, especially last night when it counted.”
There will be more help with the expected return of Taylor Zant, Julie Smagacz, Dana Kym and Rhiannon Prentiss.
Loika noted the lower-level teams also had some excellent players. Earning a spot on the varsity bench last night were freshman 6-foot-2 middle blocker Alex Basler and sophomore defensive specialist Vicki Liu.
“We had a ton of fun with this group,” he said. “The seniors will be sorely missed. They made it a real pleasure to spend three hours a night with this group of girls. The support and commitment they have exuded really just takes our breath away.”
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