The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

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The Road To State

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Photo courtesy of Wildcat Football Parent Association
After successful fall seasons last year, three teams– football, boys soccer, and girls volleyball look ahead towards competing in the postseason once again.

One goal. One dream. One game…State.  Every year, thousands of high school athletes dream about making it to the state championship, but the road to state is not a clear or easy one.  Each game is a battle, and in the end, only one team will win.

Returning from stellar seasons, these three teams have a chance to represent LHS the state level.  For them, the road has just begun.

Volleyball

Last year, the varsity girls’ volleyball team was very successful, finishing second in state after their victory over Loyola Academy.

However, it’s a new year and a new team.

“The hardest part of starting this season after ending so good last year is that we automatically compare how good we were last year to the beginning of this year,” shared junior captain Morgan O’Brien. “And things get more frustrating when we know we aren’t as good yet this year as we were ending last year. We just need to keep in mind that it’s only the beginning.”

Head coach Greg Loika provided a similar opinion.

“I think every team [says] one of their goals is to go to state.  It doesn’t really mean anything because every team is saying it and only four are going to do it. We had a team discussion the other day—we’re comparing where we are right now in August and September as to where the team was in October/November last year.  Those things are not comparable; they’re not apples to apples and I’m confident that this team is going to figure out how to get in a place to do what they want to do. But I don’t feel the pressure that we have to replicate anything,” he explained.

In addition to O’Brien this year’s captains include seniors Erin Dunleavy, Hannah Zerwas, and Jacqui Widmark.

It’s the responsibility of the returnees to model the expectations for those new to varsity and the team is still “working out the kinks.”  However, Loika is confident that his team has enough depth to be where it needs to be at the end of the season.

“We have [had] a really tough early schedule…sometimes losing is the best way to learn that.  If it (the loss) helps us grow then perfect [and] if it doesn’t, then we’ve missed an opportunity,” stated Loika.  “I think with this group we have great leaders, but we also have some quiet girls that are [going] to need to come out of their shell a little bit and they know that.  So that’s [going] to be the long-term goal for the season.”

In general, Loika believes the only realistic way to approach state is by focusing on the small pieces of a bigger picture.

“We’re really focused minute to minute, day to day, week to week, and as we sort of get our feet underneath us, we’ll say: here’s where we are, here are some of the things we need to achieve, what does it take to get that.  So many things have to happen for you to get to state.  It’s so far in the distance,” Loika expressed.

Soccer

Libertyville soccer has had a long-standing history of success.  Last year they ended their season with a 15-4 record, losing to Evanston in the semifinals of sectionals.

Head coach Andy Bitta, who began the boys soccer program in Libertyville in 1978, talked about his coaching experience for Libertyville.

“Everybody wants to beat Libertyville.  Since I’ve started coaching here, we’ve been the best for so many years.  It puts a feather in their cap for their season if they beat Libertyville,” he said.

Assistant Coach Al Beard offered a similar opinion: “[At Libertyville], we’re very fortunate we get high motivated athletes as you get in music and drama. You get it all over the place; the motivation’s there to start.  They want to win badly.  They want to do whatever it takes to do it,” voiced Coach Beard.

As a returning senior captain, Kevin Reilly is excited and anxious to see what this season will bring.

“I’m looking forward to making it farther than any Libertyville team has.  I think our biggest challenge will be staying healthy and unified, as we try to compete for a state championship,” stated Reilly.

Fellow senior captain, Tucker Goebler, also offered a similar opinion and expressed the responsibilities that come along with being a captain.

Goebler feels that his responsibility as captain is to lead by example by maintaining a disciplined attitude and to help those around him be the best players they can be.

According to Bitta, the team’s strong work ethic and talent could be seen in the early summer days and on a daily basis with the players.

“We knew we were gonna be good (during summer camp),” stated Bitta. “We’re one of the most skillful teams I’ve ever had.

Both the players and the coaches look forward to the season that lies ahead of them.  Whether they are on the field or on the sideline, their ultimate goal remains the same.

“Our goal is to win the state championship,” explained Goebler. “The thought of accomplishing that goal makes all the hard work worth it.”

Even with great focus and talent, the state tournament can be especially hard for soccer, Coach Bitta expressed.

“Soccer is just the hardest sport at state tournament time to advance because you can dominate the game and still lose like we did against Evanston,” explained Bitta.  “It’s very hard because people will become defensive-minded and try to play for a tie or try to play for penalty kicks at the end of the game and it makes it harder for your team to advance.”

Football:

The football players practiced nearly all summer, working extremely hard to build their relationship as a team and get ready for those Friday night lights.  Last season, for the first time since 2004, the football team made it to the final four, with only one game between them and the state championship.

For the football team, the summer was full of weight lifting, conditioning, and endless hours of practice under the strong summer sun.  What would make anyone want to do that?

I think most of us do it for the guy next to us, our teammates,” senior captain Ryan Maher stated.  “If it weren’t for the guy next to you, I feel like when you wake up at 5:45 you would just go back to bed because you have no one relying on you waiting for you to get there.”

The players are much more than just a team; together, they are a family.  They made it so far together last year and know what it feels like to compete in such a high-pressure position.  

“We bring back a lot of experience, and I think that is the biggest strength; we’ve been there and done that,” head coach Mike Jones said.  

A few of this year’s senior captains, such as defensive end Ben Kimpler, free safety Brian Murphy, and middle linebacker Maher, expressed how particularly close they were with the seniors from the previous season.  

“This year with the junior class, it is just our job as the seniors who were on the team last year to know what it takes to have that camaraderie with the underclassmen, and we just have to make the bond quicker and more efficient,” said Kimpler.  

The team is seeming to do just that based off of their first home game, in which they defeated Elk Grove 55-28.  According to the athletic office there were 3,000 cheering fans in the stands as the team took their first step on the long road to state.

“We should be able to play without anyone in the stands, but with them it makes a huge difference,” Maher said.  “It gets you fired up and running out and seeing all the people and everyone going crazy it just makes you want to go hit somebody.”  

With each week, a new challenge arises for the team.  At this point in the season, the team must take it week by week and game by game.  

“As long as we get better every week, I don’t have a huge goal at the end to get to conference and win state. That’s going to take care of itself if we get better every week, and that is what we strive to do,” said Jones.

The players who traveled to the final four with the team last year know what the energy feels like and what it takes to shine under the lights. After coming so close in the previous year, the team is striving to have another successful season and to bring it to the next level.

As Murphy stated, “We will do anything it takes to reach our final goal… the state championship.”

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The student news publication of Libertyville High School
The Road To State