Right girl, right time.
Just maybe the experts predicted Libertyville would roll Grayslake Central in a Class 4A regional opener on Tuesday. After all the Wildcats were at home.
Grayslake Central won the first set, 25-18. The Wildcats stormed back in the second set, 25-19. The Rams, who had surged late in the second set, opened leads of 10-7, 13-8 and finally 18-13 in the final set.
And then Kellie Hopper went to serve for her Wildcats. When she stopped serving, the Central lead was down to 19-17.
"I just wanted to get my serves in,'' Hopper said. "I wanted to get us back in the game."
Libertyville (20-16) held serve. The Wildcats edged the Rams, 18-25, 25-19, 25-23.
"That was great playoff volleyball,'' said Libertyville coach, Greg Loika. "We had a full house in our small gym. Grayslake Central played great."
Grayslake Central coach, Jason Janczak tipped his hat to the Libertyville setter. Sophomore Peyton O'Brien notched 20 assists to go with 5 kills and a serving ace.
"This was very exciting,'' O'Brien noted. "We knew this would be a tough match. We just needed to stay confident and keep our energy up."
The Cats had the good start in the first set. However, on back-to-back kills from Kate Bullman, the Rams (22-14) opened up some breathing room at 12-9. On back-to-back aces from Abby Marassa, the Rams took set one.
"We played hard,'' Janczak observed. "It was one of the best matches we've played."
Central senior Cassidy Beshel slammed down 16 kills in the three sets. Yes, she's the niece of the great Libertyville linebacker, Tim Beshel.,
"I'm disappointed,'' Beshel said. "But Libertyville was very good. We just relaxed a little in that second set,"
On one of those O'Brien kills, the Cats' lead was comfortable at 18-11. Beshel had 4 kills down the stretch and the Rams pulled within 23-17.
Another Libertyville sophomore, like Hopper and O'Brien, is Ella Schaffnit.
"She's our firecracker,'' O'Brien said.
Schaffnit closed the second set with an ace.
Central setter, Elisa Koshy (37 assists and 11 digs) had consecutive kills as the Rams opened a third set lead.
"She's our secret weapon,'' Janczak said.
Alyssa Sorenson went into serve late for the Wildcats. She took advantage of that and forged a tie at 23-23 in the final set.
Schaffnit led the Wildcats in kills with 7. Hopper added 6 kills and 3 aces. Amber Moser of the Rams had 11 kills.
The Cats will return on Thursday to face Crystal Lake Central for the regional title.
By Bill Pemstein
Daily Herald Correspondent