Boys volleyball: Libertyville saves 5 match points, stuns undefeated Rockton Hononegah
The odds were stacked against Libertyville, to say the least, Tuesday night at the Warren sectional final.
The Wildcats were the fourth seed in a sport where a team seeded lower than third rarely makes it to state. And they were facing a Rockton Hononegah squad that was undefeated on the season.
And when Libertyville dropped the first set and trailed set number two 24-20, all hope seemed lost.
But somehow, someway, through sheer will power, a never-say-die attitude, and outstanding execution, they rallied.
The Wildcats fought off five match points to take the second set, then survived a Hononegah 8-point run in game 3 to score a 19-25, 28-26, 25-23 boys volleyball sectional title win.
They now move on to face Oak Park-River Forest in the state quarterfinals Friday at Hoffman Estates.
"The first set was a little shaky," said Wildcats senior middle Chase Bonder, who came up with the match-winning block to hand the win to his team. "But we started to rally, strung a few points together, and went on to win it from there."
"We prepared for these guys (Hononegah), and we thought we matched up well," said Libertyville coach Jenny Smith. "We didn't play to our game plan in the first set, but we kept the pressure on. The guys stepped up their game and they were awesome."
The Wildcats trailed set two 22-20, and after a timeout, two straight kills from Hononegah put the 1st-seeded Rockton team, which finished the year at 26-1, on the doorstep of victory.
Libertyville wouldn't give in, however, and two kills from junior outside hitter Patrick Akers, an ace from senior Reece Wiatrowski, and a shared block in the middle made it 24-24.
Then with score tied at 26-26, Hononegah sailed two straight hits out of bounds and the match was all knotted up.
The Wildcats rode the momentum to an early set three advantage -- then Hononegah scored 8 consecutive points to take a commanding lead.
Slowly but surely though, Libertyville (21-13) got back into the game.
"I'm just really proud of our guys," said Smith, "for continuing to fight and not giving up. It's hard to have the pressure on you, knowing that if lose, your season is over."
Hononegah still led the deciding game 22-21 when senior Ethan Lindberg set Bonder for a kill that tied it a 22-22.
After a pair of sideouts, a smash from Akers brought Libertyville to match point.
And with the large crowd on their feet, and the players seemingly near exhaustion, Bonder made the play of the game.
The senior lept high to block an Hononegah kill attempt, the ball fell to the floor on the Rockton side, and the Libertyville fans rushed the court to help celebrate the win with their team.
"Nothing changed," said Bonder of the clutch play. "Same mindset as the rest of the game. Get the block up, go inside for a block on him (the Hononegah hitter), and I was able to get a hand on it."
Akers led the team on attack with 12 kills, Bonder added 7 kills and an outstanding 13 blocks, Luis Correa finished with 21 assists, while Wiatrowski had 15 digs.
"We blocked well, hit well, and served well," added Smith. "The guys played with passion, focus and confidence, and they never gave up."