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Libertyville completes ‘180-degree turnaround’

01/14/2013, 8:07pm CST
By Bob Gosman

Sparked by the leadership of several key seniors and a greater work ethic from the entire team, Libertyville is making progress this season.

Libertyville High School - Libertyville - 01/12/13 -Haley Hoeksel (34) of Libertyville High School grabs a rebound during their game against Zion-Benton High School on Saturday, January 12, 2013 in Libertyville. |Darrell Harmon~for Sun-Times Media

It would have been human nature to pout and start pointing fingers.

Instead, the Libertyville girls basketball team looked inward after its 67-27 loss to Zion-Benton on Dec. 1, a setback that dropped the team to 1-7. Thanks in large part of the leadership of seniors Olivia Mayer, Dana Kym and Haley Hoeksel, the Wildcats resolved to work harder and start playing better.

For the last six weeks, Libertyville has looked like a different team. In fact, in a rematch against Zion-Benton Saturday, the Zee-Bees could’ve been forgiven for wondering if they were playing the same team.

Libertyville stayed right with the taller and more talented Zee-Bees every step of the way. In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats cut the deficit to one point three times before ultimately dropping a 56-51 decision.

Even with the loss, Libertyville (8-11) has won seven of its past 11 games.

“I think the first Zion-Benton (game) was a wakeup call about what it takes to be successful at this level,” first-year coach Greg Pedersen said. “Our leadership and work ethic never wavered, and they knew things would turn around. (Saturday), we played by far our best game of the season.”

Added Mayer: “It was a 180-degree turnaround from the first time. Zion has some amazingly talented players, and I don’t think they thought it was going to be such a close game. We’ve started playing real Libertyville basketball.”

Key for Libertyville during this stretch has been its ability to force turnovers. The Wildcats like to play full-court defense. Forcing turnovers and converting them into points in transition speeds up the tempo and makes Libertyville less reliant on scoring in the half-court, an area in which it still needs to improve.

“We’re a very fast team, and we love pressuring the ball,” Hoeksel said. “It gives us a lot of momentum.”

Closing out the calendar year with a 13-point victory over highly regarded Streamwood (64-51) gave the Wildcats a jolt of confidence for the second half.

After struggling to score more than 40 points in some games earlier in the season, the Wildcats have averaged 55 points in their past three games. A big reason why is crisper passing that has led to higher-percentage shots.

“The kids have learned how to move the ball real well,” said Pedersen, who credited Mayer with setting the tone on offense. “We’ve also started making some outside shots and that’s opened up some things for us.”

On defense, the clear star has been Kym. Although she is far from a giant at 5-foot-10, there are few players in the area rebounding the ball any better.

“She’s rebounding like a crazy woman,” Pedersen said. “She’s all over the (court) and our kids feed off her energy and inspiring (play).”

Kym said she has always relished the opportunity to rebound.

“It’s a mental game and a good challenge,” she said. “When we miss a shot and get the rebound, it gives us another possession.” ~.

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