From the beginning of the season, the game circled on all the Lake County calendars was the pivotal NSC matchup between Libertyville and Stevenson.
The two teams lived up to the preseason hype, both entering the contest with matching 3-0 records in the NSC, but Libertyville’s 25-21, 31-29 over the Patriots put them squarely in the drivers seat to take the NSC crown.
“With both of us being undefeated, we knew it was going to be a very competitive match,” said Libertyville head coach Jenny Smith. “We always see them in important matches for some reason so we’re pretty comfortable playing them. The consistency across the board was amazing I think we just did a little better job being aggressive with our attack.”
The matchup featured two of the best outside hitters in the northern suburbs, Jack Stevens from Libertyville and Leo Chen from Stevenson.
Stevens (14 kills, three aces) helped put Libertyville in front early, not with his attacking ability, but with an aggressive jump as he started the match with three aces.
“There’s seriously nothing Jack can’t do,” said Smith. “When our setter had a college visit Jack was running the offense and our middles actually got more sets that week then ever before.”
Despite the shaky start, Stevenson responded immediately. The Patriots slowed down the Libertyville attack with back to back stuff blocks. Libertyville overcompensated on the mistakes and swung wildly to the tune of attacking errors which gave Stevenson a 8-5 lead.
After finally settling in, the match took a more normal course of action with big swings from both teams that led to side out volleyball. Libertyville tied the set up at 15 before slowly pulling away to take the first set thanks to their extremely aggressive (and risky) serving.
Smith said: “The serving has actually hurt us earlier in the season but it’s going to be a big payoff in the end. We knew we were going to take hits but our guys are serving aggressive and that’s a huge advantage.”
Just like the opening set, Libertyville got out to a quick start but were met with an equally quick response from Stevenson.
The blocking tandem of middle Justin Ross (three kills, three blocks) and Chen (10 kills, two blocks) continued to frustrate the Wildcat hitters until Libertyville responded with some stellar defense of their own.
“The first set went according to plan. They adjusted to us, but obviously that’s just volleyball,” said Smith. “We just changed up our plays by using our outsides a little more and the way they were running their defense played well for our offense.”
Libertyville would eventually tie the match up late in the set before Chen and Stevens had their showdown in the final scene.
The two star outside’s went kill for kill in the closing moments of the match, forcing the set into extra points until ultimately, Libertyville took advantage of a free ball that was put away by Brendan Cook to seal the match.
With the most difficult portion of their conference slate now behind them, Libertyville seem to be within reach of taking the NSC title for the second straight year.
“They were the ones we were watching out for in conference,” said Smith. “Of course we’re going to have to finish it out but one of their goals was to win conference undefeated and there is no doubt in my mind that they can do that.”
Although Stevenson is only one game back, in addition to beating Warren, they will need some help from the likes of Lake Zurich and Mundelein.
Both teams will turn to non conference matches before returning to NSC action with Libertyville facing Glenbard North, and Stevenson traveling to Fremd.