Wildcats best Bears: girls basketball team secures victory over Lake Zurich

Junior Maddy Kopala (42) readies herself at the three-point line, seizing the opportunity to make a shot for her team. Kopala, who had nine points from three-pointers during the game, pulled through and made the basket.

Jack Birmingham

Junior Maddy Kopala (42) readies herself at the three-point line, seizing the opportunity to make a shot for her team. Kopala, who had nine points from three-pointers during the game, pulled through and made the basket.

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, the LHS girls varsity basketball team played an away conference game against the Lake Zurich Bears, culminating in a loss for the Wildcats. Just a few short weeks later, the Wildcats played Lake Zurich a second time, now armed with a fiery determination to beat their conference competitors, and a home court advantage. On Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, the Libertyville Wildcats successfully locked down yet another conference win, beating the Bears with a final score of 45-19.

The Wildcats’ starting line-up going into the first quarter was unique, consisting of only one senior, Emily Fisher (3). Fisher, a point guard for the team, recently announced her commitment to play basketball for the University of Maryland, and the future Terrapin tore up the court during her game, scoring twelve points for the home team. 

The rest of the starting line-up, on the other hand, were juniors, a uniquely strong quartet that included sisters Kate and Rachel Rule (24 & 32 respectively), center Talya Tillman (33) and shooting guard Maddy Kopala (42). With five strong players on the court, Libertyville started the game showing that they were ready to play.

From the tip-off, the first quarter saw the Wildcats surging ahead and never looking back. They quickly jumped to a 12-4 lead, with Kate Rule scoring two consecutive three-pointers to aid the team. Rule’s shooting, however, was far from the only highlight. A steal by Tillman and focused defense from all kept the Wildcats ahead the entire quarter, and the first portion of the game ended with the home team leading 12-4. 

Tillman spoke highly of both the team performance and atmosphere on and off the court. “It felt really good,” Tillman said, referencing the redemption win against Lake Zurich. “I was confident enough that we were going to come back and beat them.”

The second quarter saw both momentum and the ball in the hands of the Wildcats. Fisher showcased her prowess for the sport with a fantastic steal and stellar dribbling in an attempt to recover a wayward ball, and because of the superb defense by the team, Lake Zurich didn’t score until almost the four-minute mark, nearly halfway through the quarter. 

A key moment came when Rachel Rule, the other half of the junior dynamic duo, recovered the ball and made quick work of turning it into an easy layup, increasing the already significant lead to 14-6 for the Wildcats. Although Lake Zurich played hard and scored a few more times, the second quarter ended with the Wildcats still leading, now 17-12.

In the third quarter, it was junior Maddy Kopala’s turn to step up for the team. After Rachel Rule scored another five points for the team, Kopala grew the lead further with nine points of her own during the quarter, launching three-pointer after three-pointer to grow the home team’s score. Like Tillman, Kopala spoke highly of the team dynamic showcased by herself and her teammates. 

“The team chemistry is amazing,” said Kopala. “I think it helps so much.” Kopala also said that she could agree that something both herself and the team were proud of was “our confidence going into it, our passion for the game and our overall excitement for this game.” Like the first two, the third quarter ended with the scoreboard reading in favor of the Wildcats.

Despite the game being all but in the bag, the home team continued to play their hardest in the final quarter, and ultimately, took home the redemption win with a final score of 45-19, securing their current first place ranking in the conference, and adding to their growing winning streak. 

Mr. Greg Pedersen, in his eleventh year as the team’s head coach, expressed pride on the changes that his team had adapted to in order to learn from mistakes and win against a team to which they had previously lost. “We learned a big lesson at that last game where we lost to them,” Pedersen said, referencing the away game on Jan. 11. “We learned about our deficiencies on defense, and then coming back this time, we had spent a lot of time in preparation to fix some of our mistakes.”

The game was certainly a key win to begin the home stretch to a satisfying season for the team. The next game will take place on Thursday, Feb. 2, as the Wildcats take on another possible redemption task against Maine South.