Cougars knock off WildcatsVernon Hills' Martin Niemczewski (20) attempts to spike the ball past Libertyville's Eric Handrich. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 31, 2011 10:06PM
After an impressive start to Tuesday’s Warren Sectional championship game, it looked like Libertyville was going to continue its amazing post-season run with another upset.
But area power Vernon Hills got back on track to knock off the Wildcats for the third time this season — posting an 19-25, 25-18, 25-18 victory to earn the Cougars their first-ever trip to the state finals.
Vernon Hills (35-4) will square off against Edwardsville (25-1) in a quarterfinal contest on Friday at 2 p.m. at Hoffman Estate High School.
Playing with emotion and determination, Libertyville (24-16) dominated the opening game with strong defense and the hitting of Eric Handrich, Matt Tassler and Brian Bonamarte.
“This was not unexpected,” said Vernon Hills coach Chris Curry. “Libertyville is a far different team now then the one we faced earlier in the season. They got off to a good start and we played scared.”
The Cougars turned the tables in Games 2 and 3 by playing better defensively and finding open spaces with their hits offensively.
“We finally played loose enough to play defense, loose enough to make that first step to block with confidence and loose enough to read and anticipate better Libertyville’s block when we were hitting,” said Curry.
The clutch hitting of Martin Niemczewski, Thomas Robinson and Garrett Kubacki in the final two games sent Vernon Hills packing for state.
“This definitely feels great,” said Curry. “We’ve come close (to state) a couple of times in 2003 and 2009, but a key player always got hurt. We were healthy last season, so that one (a 35-33 loss in the third game to Buffalo Grove in the sectional final) hurt for awhile, but we learned from it.”
Libertyville tried to send out coach Steve Rochon with a trip to state in his 19th and final season at the helm, but the Cats came up one game up short.
“I’ve never had a more satifying season,” he said. “This team improved from just talent to putting it all together over the last few weeks of the season.”