“I was freaking out,” said Barrington’s 5-foot-8 junior libero. “I went to bed and couldn’t sleep.”
Babicz learned that come Saturday he would be taking over at the left side for Barrington’s 6-4 junior Gabe Hartke, who was taking an Advanced Placement Test. Barrington was already down a starter with 6-3 sophomore opposite Ben Ridgway nursing a knee injury.
But with 6-5 outside hitter Michael O’Toole doing the heavy lifting and 6-3 junior Luke Kolder, 6-1 junior Ricky Gibson and Babicz filling in the blanks, No. 9-ranked Barrington knocked off No. 2 Glenbard West and No. 7 Libertyville to win the Northside Classic at New Trier.
“We were playing with fire,” Babicz said. “Everyone was doing their roles. Everyone was playing their position.”
And as for Hartke?
“I don’t think he’s on the team anymore,” Babicz joked. “We’re kicking him off the roster.”
All jokes aside, don’t look for O’Toole to be going anywhere soon.
“He’s pretty good,” Barrington coach Rob Ridenour understated. “I’m biased, obviously, but I think he’s the best player in the state. He’s got the all-around skill set. Serving, offense, defense, passing, first contact, blocking … he’s really good at every skill.”
O’Toole had 15 kills and 3 blocks as Barrington (26-5) stunned Glenbard West 25-21, 25-21 in the semifinals. He followed that performance with a 15-kill, 7-dig effort against Libertyville in the championship match, leading the Broncos to a 25-19, 25-22 victory.
“We knew we had to play Glenbard West and would see either Hersey or Libertyville after that … both real good teams,” O’Toole said. “We came out with that defensive intensity today. We brought a competitive edge and it worked out for us. Today was a really fun day.”
Confidence has been the difference in his play from earlier in the season, O’Toole said.
“I feel like I’ve matured,” he said. “Just making smart shots. I was trying to do too much in the past. Just keep the ball in play and good things happen. Evan (Barrington’s 6-2 setter Carroll) was putting the ball in the slot and I was able to go up and have some good rips.”
Libertyville (27-5), which beat Hersey 25-14, 25-22 to reach the championship match, got 12 kills, 1 block and 6 digs from 6-3 Ohio State recruit Jack Stevens, 5 kills and 2 blocks from 6-5 Brendan Cook, and 23 assists from Carter Schaffnit.
“We came out fighting against Hersey,” Libertyville coach Jennifer Smith said. “But (the title match) was a huge difference in how we’ve been playing. We just didn’t get into what we usually do. We’re usually a very aggressive serving team.
“But they (Barrington) were passing dimes,” she added. “They kept themselves in system. It’s much harder to beat a team that’s in system. Kudos to them. They did a great job adjusting to us. We were slow on our defensive adjustments. I think the that’s the long and short of that.”
Glenbard West (27-3) bounced back from its semifinal loss to Barrington to defeat Hersey 25-11, 25-10 for third place.
“They (her players) were angry,” Glenbard West coach Christine Giunta-Mayer said.
“We had a night (Friday) last night where we just wiped everybody out, and if that was their expectation … I know (Barrington’s Gabe) Hardtke wasn’t here, but that’s no excuse,” she added. “If they make excuses, we have to figure out what to do.
“I hoped we learned from our first loss. I hoped we learned from our second loss. But I don’t know if we’ll learn from this loss. We’re getting near the end and I’ve been begging them that defense wins games. We didn’t play defense (in the semifinal loss).”
Hersey, which went 2-1 in Friday’s pool play but won a tiebreaker over New Trier and Lake Forest to advance to the first-place bracket, never got untracked Saturday save for its second set against Libertyville, who the Huskies had beaten a few weeks ago.
“I made a change in the second set and had a freshman (5-6 Lucas Irwin) out there at libero,” Hersey coach Nancy Lill said. “He did a nice job. At least we were in system a little bit better. In Game 1, we couldn’t pass for anything. We couldn’t block.
“Still, we had our chances (in the second set),” she added. “(Libertyville is) a great team. We didn’t execute. Our blocking scheme wasn’t as good as it was last time we played them. They’re a tough pup.”
But the toughest puppy Saturday wasn’t a puppy at all. It was a horse, of course.
“First and foremost … defense,” Ridenour said. “We’ve been striving to get there to that level all year. We knew we could. We knew we could play defense that well. And today it clicked. The guys took over their responsibilities. That was the biggest thing today.”