Valentine’s Day Victory: Libertyville boys basketball beats Waukegan to be conference champions

The team celebrates their hard-earned success with a group photo, holding the banner that signifies their conference title. For the first time in over 30 years, Libertyville claimed sole victory as conference champions.

The Libertyville Wildcats beat the Waukegan Bulldogs 61-33 on Feb. 14, 2023, to become the North Suburban Conference champions for the first time in over 30 years. The last time the Libertyville varsity boys basketball team were outright conference champions was 1990. In 2018, they shared the conference title with the Stevenson Patriots. At the end of the 2022-23 season, however, that all changed.

Libertyville came into the game as a powerhouse team, sporting a 12-1 conference record, a 24-5 overall record, and a first place lead in the conference. However, they weren’t quite there yet; this game was still important.


First Quarter:

The first few minutes following tip-off were a game based not on scoring, but on rebounds. Seniors Cole Bonder (35) and Jack Huber (22) each secured rebounds for the team before senior Will Buchert (5) would make the first shot of the game, putting the Wildcats on the board and up by three.

Buchert proved to be a powerful player during the game, making four free throws, securing a rebound aided by senior Kaj Sorensen (3) and locking down on  defense.

Another key player was freshman Blaise LaVista (1). LaVista was not just the only freshman in the game—he is the only freshman on the team.  LaVista proved to be an asset by guarding Waukegan’s speed and keeping them scoreless in the first quarter. With two more three-pointers by senior Aidyn Boone (40), the first quarter was over, and the Wildcats were up 15-0.

Boone, whose height enabled him to spend the night playing mostly in the center position, spoke on the team’s goals moving forward. “Rebounding definitely has been a little lackluster in the past,” said Boone, “but I think we can do that and dominate that again, and I think just defensively keep working on that and get better every day.”


Second Quarter:

The second quarter started off with Waukegan having possession of the ball, but momentum still favored the home team. Huber quickly made another three before Waukegan scored for the first time, making the score 18-2.

The rest of the quarter was a scoring run for the Cats, with Boone, LaVista and Buchert all putting up successful shots, along with junior Ben Van Lyssel (23) and seniors Ian Burke (4) and Henry Eads (21).

The half ended with a buzzer-beater three-point shot by Van Lyssel, and the Wildcats kept their lead going into the third quarter.


Third Quarter:

The third quarter was another scoring run for the Wildcats, but the Bulldogs put up a fight, proving that if they were going to go down, they would go down fighting until the last buzzer. With the combined efforts of Boone, Burke and Van Lyssel, along with senior Drew Williams (11) who made two shots at the free throw line, the Wildcats grew their lead.


Fourth Quarter:

With the Wildcats growing closer and closer to a victory, the fourth quarter marked the home stretch in their quest for the conference title. Players like Huber and Boone continued to grow the scoring lead, before the entire line-up was changed. It was the juniors’ time to shine as juniors Gabe Nolasco (25), Kyle Anderson (15), Henok Wojack (2) and Jack Carey (12) were subbed in, along with Williams.

Minutes later, after a successful combination of Carey’s rebounding and Williams’ shooting, junior Henry Calsin (20) was brought in to replace Williams, making every Wildcat on the court a junior, and allowing the younger members of the team to step up to end the regular season.

Anderson especially played a phenomenal finish to the game with two consecutive layups, but Waukegan refused to be lapped. With about three seconds left in the game, Bulldog sophomore Devaughn Brown (30) put up one last layup before the buzzer, making the final score 61-33 for the Wildcats.


Head Coach Brian Zyrkowski was proud of the efforts that everyone on his team put in to achieve victory. “The great part about all these kids is they made the team for a reason,” Zyrkowski said. “They all contribute every single day and they had the opportunity tonight to get on the floor in front of the home crowd one last time.”

The Wildcats celebrated the end to a phenomenal regular season, with a conference record of 13-1, and an overall record of 25-5. Officially announced as the conference champions, the team took a moment to celebrate their success.

“You know, it feels really good,” said Henry Eads, speaking on behalf of the seniors. “I think all of us have worked really hard these past few years, and this is our final chance to get stuff done. So I’m really glad that things are working out.”