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It's been 10 months since tears were shed and heads were scratched in utter disbelief.
It's a new season now, and the past is in the past.
For the most part.
A little bit of past history couldn't help but be dredged up when Libertyville took on Zion-Benton in the semifinals of the Mundelein Holiday Classic on Wednesday.
The last time Libertyville faced Zion-Benton on that court, things didn't go so well for Libertyville. In fact, it was a downright disastrous outing for the Wildcats.
Back in February, Zion-Benton mowed down Libertyville in the sectional semifinals at Mundelein. Not only did the loss end Libertyville's promising post-season run, it abruptly cut off at the knees an undefeated season that had stretched over nearly 30 games.
The Wildcats were 29-0 before suffering an 8-point loss to the Zee-Bees.
To say that that painstaking moment was top of mind for Libertyville heading into a rematch with Zion-Benton at the very same venue might be slightly inaccurate. But it definitely was on the radar, which made celebrating victory a bit sweeter for the Wildcats.
Libertyville overcame Zion-Benton's relentless full-court press and pulled out a 47-46 victory that was iced with key free throws in the final minute by senior center Nicole Kruckman and senior guard Molly Moon, who was calm and collected even though she had broken out her front tooth earlier in the game.
The Wildcats (12-3) will face Rolling Meadows at 8 p.m. tonight for the tournament championship. Libertyville has won the last two titles at Mundelein.
"Obviously, we're big rivals with Zion and we always want to take it to them," said Libertyville senior guard Alex Haley, who scored a team-high 17 points. "It took awhile to get over (last year). We've tried to put it behind us, but it's there in the back of our minds that Zion beat us here and ruined our perfect season. That was motivation to come in and take it to them this time."
The Wildcats were doing just that in the first half. They built a 6-point halftime lead (24-18) that seemed much larger considering how poorly both teams were shooting from the floor.
Libertyville hit 6 of 7 free throws in the second quarter to pull in front.
But thanks to its turnover-inducing full-court press, Zion-Benton finished the third quarter with a spirited 6-2 run that continued into the fourth quarter. The Zee-Bees, who forced 10 second-half Libertyville turnovers, opened the fourth quarter with a 7-1 run and took a 35-32 lead.
"We always know it's going to be a tough game with Libertyville just because they are who they are. They're a tough team," said Zion-Benton senior forward Octavia Crump, who poured in a game-high 19 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. "Our press is tough because we play really hard and aggressive. We're always switching things up, trying to scare the guards. We try to shock teams."
Perhaps nothing, though, will ever be as shocking for Libertyville as that loss to Zion-Benton in the sectional last year. Haley remembers it well, and so does Kruckman, who started last year.
But the good news for Libertyville is that the other four starters from last year graduated and there are a lot of new players on the roster this year who didn't experience the pain of that loss so directly.
"We've talked about how that's last year, it's in the past," Libertyville coach Kathie Swanson said. "We have pretty much a whole new group of players and we've got to focus on that. If we keep focusing on what happened last year, then psychologically we're not where we need to be."
Senior guard Eileen Knauff added 10 points for Libertyville while Kruckman and junior forward Haley Hoeksel finished with 8 points.
Junior guard Kaitlyn Stabenow finished with 12 points for Z-B while sophomore forward Samantha Rodriguez added 8 points and freshman center Mia Yarbrough had 7 points.
"We're young and we're growing and these are the growing pains," said Zion-Benton coach Tanya Johnson, whose team did defeat Libertyville earlier this season in North Suburban Conference play. "We're missing so many players from last year, so it's not like this was the same game (with Libertyville) as last year with the return of all the players (involved). But I think definitely, a rivalry is developing, and it's a good one."