The odds were against Libertyville, to say the least, on Tuesday night in the Warren Division Final.
The Wildcats were the fourth seed in a sport where a team ranked below third rarely travels to the state. And they were facing a Rockton Hononegah team that was undefeated this season.
And when Libertyville dropped the first set and trailed the second set 24-20, all hope seemed lost.
But somehow, through sheer willpower, a never-saying attitude, and exceptional execution, they came together.
The Wildcats fought off five match points to win the second set, then survived an 8-point run from Hononegah in game three to claim the men’s volleyball sectional title 19-25, 28-26, 25 -23.
They now face Oak Park-River Forest in the state quarterfinals on Friday at Hoffman Estates.
“The first set was a bit shaky,” said senior Wildcats midfielder Chase Bonder, who found the winning block to give his team the win. “But we started to rally, string together some points and win from there.”
“We prepared for these guys (Hononegah) and thought we were a good match,” Libertyville coach Jenny Smith said. “We didn’t stick to our game plan in the first set but we kept the pressure on. The guys stepped up and they were brilliant.”
The Wildcats led two sets 22-20, and after a timeout, Hononegah’s two-game winning streak put the first-seeded Rockton team, which finished the year at 26-1, on the brink of victory. victoire.
Libertyville didn’t give up, however, and two kills from junior outside hitter Patrick Akers, an ace from senior Reece Wiatrowski and a split block down the middle made it 24-24.
Then, with the score tied at 26-26, Hononegah hit two straight out of bounds and the game was tied.
The Wildcats used the momentum to take an opening three-set advantage – then Hononegah scored 8 straight points to take a decisive lead.
Slowly but surely, Libertyville (21-13) came back into the game.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Smith said, “for keeping fighting and not giving up. It’s hard to have the pressure on you, knowing if you lose your season is over. “
Hononegah still led the deciding game 22-21 when senior Ethan Lindberg set Bonder up for a kill that tied it 22-22.
After a pair of gaps, an Akers smash brought Libertyville to match point.
And with the large crowd standing and the players seemingly exhausted, Bonder made the game of the match.
The elder jumped high to block a kill attempt by Hononegah, the ball fell to the ground at Rockton’s side and Libertyville fans rushed onto the field to help celebrate the victory with their team.
“Nothing has changed,” Bonder said 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 my hands on it.”
Akers led the team in attack with 12 kills, Bonder added 7 kills and 13 outstanding 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.”