GURNEE – The momentum seemed to have finally swung, and the confidence of a perennial powerhouse restored.
Unfortunately for Cary-Grove, the perennial powerhouse on the other side of the court showed it never lost its momentum nor its confidence.
Facing four set points and the thought of a decisive third set, top-seeded Libertyville scored seven of the last eight points to end its match against second-seeded Cary-Grove, 25-16, 27-25, in Wednesday’s Class 4A Gurnee Warren Sectional championship.
It was a tough loss to stomach for the Trojans, who had just found a little offensive magic after a game-and-a-half’s worth of frustration.
Down as many as four points midway through the second game, C-G (28-11) used a strong Lauren Passaglia kill after an impressive defensive rally to take a lead at 17-16. They increased it to 24-20 with three kills from Jenna Splitt and blocks from Evynn Layshock and Alexis German.
The Wildcats (30-9) didn’t flinch.
Kellie Hopper made three of her match-high eight kills while C-G had two big unforced errors to close the match.
“Libertyville did a great job of shutting down our offense,” Trojans coach Patty Langanis said. “That run provided a glimmer of offense for us. But credit Libertyville; they just played really scrappy. They made it really hard on our offense to score. We got tight and anxious and a little frustrated.”
That brief run was about all the Trojans could muster. Layshock was held to just to just two kills. Splitt led the way with five while Passaglia had eight assists and three kills to go along with a pair of aces.
“[Cary-Grove] is unlike other teams that we have faced with strong outsides going outside all the time,” Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. “These guys move the ball around all over the place. That was the challenge in the last practice and our walk through. But we knew where they were kind of moving and our block did a nice job of recognizing who was up and who was down.”
To go along with solid defense, Libertyville found timely holes against C-G’s tough blocking front. Up 15-14 in the first game, consecutive kills from Ella Schaffnit (six kills, eight digs) and another from Oliva Sauers pushed the lead to 18-14, and C-G wouldn’t come closer than two points the rest of the game.
“Peyton [O’Brien, Libertyville’s setter] did a really good job of just moving the ball around,” Loika said. “We had really good passes. We were mixing up our shots and hitting high hands off that block, because Cary-Grove’s block was pretty strong,”
Despite the loss, Langanis thought the resolve her team showed in the second set was a good representation of what made this team stand out.
“I’ll remember how much they cared and how much they worked toward their goal of getting to state,” she said. “With that, it really was a joy to work with these girls every day. There’s going to be a lot of pain that remains with them, but that’s a sign of how much this season meant to them.”
STAR OF THE MATCH
Jenna Splitt, jr., S
Splitt led the way with six kills for Cary-Grove against a loaded Libertyville team, including four in the second game.
18: Cary-Grove and Libertyville had combined for 18 sectional titles (five for Cary-Grove) and seven state trophies.
AND ANOTHER THING
Cary-Grove scored three or more points consecutively only four times in the match.