NORMAL — There’s coming back from the proverbial dead, then there’s what Libertyville did in the second Class 4A state semifinal on Friday.
Down big in the second game after losing the first, Libertyville rallied to win the second game then played a near-flawless third game to defeat Loyola 21-25, 25-22, 25-11, and advance to Saturday’s championship game.
Hannah Zerwas had 12 kills, Anna Lillydahl added eight kills, Alex Basler had six kills and three blocks and Liz Apgar contributed 31 assists for Libertyville (35-6), which will play Benet for the 4A title at 8:55 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena.
“I think one thing this team has shown is that they can fight when their backs are against the wall,” Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. “Tonight was certainly no different. Loyola is a solid team, but I think when we finally figured things out we really started playing.
“Coming back in the first set and from down 12-3 put some pressure on them (Loyola), and then they had their backs against the wall. I think our experience helped us a little bit. We started passing a little better and started executing our offense. The girls fought.”
The Ramblers (27-10) enjoyed their biggest lead in Game 1 at 17-10 on a kill by 6-2 junior Christina Reed. The Wildcats got within 22-20 on a kill by Basler, but the Ramblers closed on two Libertyville errors and a kill by Reed.
The Wildcats looked all but done after falling behind by nine points in Game 2, but a kill by Francesca Fusco capped a 8-1 run that got the Wildcats within 13-11. Loyola eased to a 18-13 lead, but a 6-1 run with Apgar at the service line pulled Libertyville even at 19-19.
“Down 12-3, it was still a lot on our side,” Basler said. “The thing that was true last Saturday against Crystal Lake South was that a lot of it was our fault, our errors. If we just fixed that we’d be fine. We were so well-prepared, we just had to start executing.
“We got a few kills and people started stepping it up. We started stringing together a few points.”
A kill by Lillydahl pushed the Wildcats ahead at 22-21, and two kills by Zerwas tied the match at a set apiece. Game 3 was all Libertyville, which ran out to a 13-4 lead.
Loyola never recovered.
“Coming out so strong, we showed a lot of guts,” Loyola coach Mark Chang said. “We wanted to show this arena that we came to play. But in the game of volleyball, you have moments of breakdowns. Worse, then you have a couple areas that break down.
“Our serve receive broke down. When we serve receive, we can run a very effective offense. But we needed this experience. We still have unfinished business here.”
Reed led Loyola, which will play Normal for third place Saturday at 7:25 p.m., with 10 kills and 13 digs. Olivia Van Zeist added seven kills, Katie Randolph had 23 assists and Lauren Stadler added 13 digs.
“We talked about this being the most important volleyball match that our program has ever played,” Loika said. “That’s a lot of pressure to put on 15 girls. But at the same time, they decided they wanted to put their mark on the program.”
Coming back from the precipice is one way to start.