LIBERTYVILLE — For the North Suburban Conference title match Wednesday night, Libertyville’s girls volleyball team moved to a different gymnasium.
Hosting Prairie Division champ Wauconda, the Lake Division-champion Wildcats switched from their ordinary home inside Libertyville’s main gym to the school’s west gym.
“Higher ceilings. Keeps more balls in play for us,” Wildcats coach Greg Loika said.
The Eagles (24-8) were the aggressors in the first game Wednesday, keeping more balls in play and forcing the Wildcats to come from behind. But Libertyville (28-5) bounced back, easily taking the second game and surviving a feisty Eagles team in the third game to win the match and the conference championship 22-25, 25-8, 25-15.
The first game served as a test for Libertyville, seeded No. 1 in the Glenbrook North Sectional. Forced out of system by a persistent, dogged Wauconda team, Loika had a forceful, yet simple, message to his team before the second game.
“[Loika] said, ‘We have to go out there and play the way we know we can play,’ ” sophomore hitter Anna Lillydahl said. “We weren’t in that first game.”
After breezing in the second game (Wauconda did not score one offensive point), Lillydahl’s play on the right side sparked the Wildcats. Trailing 4-3 in the third, Lillydahl put down a set from senior Lizzie Apgar (25 assists) inside the right pin. The next play mimicked the previous one, with Lillydahl (11 kills) finishing a swing off a set from senior Alex Basler. Lillydahl then showed her all-around skill with a block of an Eagles kill attempt.
A rotational player all season, Lillydahl has established herself as threat on offense and defense.
“Her hits are amazing. They are perfectly in between people. She’s been doing great,” junior hitter Hannah Zerwas said.
Keyed by Lillydahl’s offense and defense, Libertyville’s 7-0 run in the third game swung the match in its favor. Wauconda got as close as 16-14, but strong serving from senior hitter Francesca Fusco and stellar blocks from Basler and Zerwas upped the Wildcats’ lead to 20-14. Libertyville closed the match on 9-1 run.
A non-conference rivalry home match against Carmel on Friday should serve as another tune-up before regionals begin on Oct. 28. If that match takes on the same personality the one against Wauconda, the Wildcats will be battle-tested for the playoffs.
“This match was good as that’s how it’s going to be like [in the postseason]. That’s the atmosphere you want to be ready and prepared [for],” Zerwas said.
Loika added: “You felt the nerves and I’m sure the girls did, the stomach tightens up. That completely replicates what next week is like. And for the girls who haven’t experienced it, that’s an advantage for us. Nothing’s going to be easy from here on out.”