Sycamore seniors Aspen Paulsen and Caitlin Mereness saw the makings of a banner season while practicing on the tennis courts last summer.
More girls than usual had put in extra work over the winter and a majority of the Spartan team was playing together outside of formal practices.
"I feel like it started last year because last year we were almost there," Paulsen said. "We were out here on our own. This year we came back and we practiced as hard as we could and it paid off."
Sycamore completed the best regular season in school history, going undefeated in dual meets and finishing with a record of 16-1-1. The Spartans capped it off with their second Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference championship in three years, edging Kaneland by two points.
It's even given the players a little more notoriety around school.
"A lot of people know us as part of the tennis team," Mereness said. "When they see us they always ask 'How did your match go?' They know us as the tennis team."
Now Sycamore's attention turns to the postseason where six Spartans will compete in the two-day St. Charles East Sectional starting today.
Freshman Angelina Ye, who won the conference championship at No. 1 singles, is seeded as the No. 3 singles player in the tournament.
"Throughout the season she just hits the ball with more pace week to week," Hillmer said. "It's amazing. She's a really good player."
Mereness and Paulsen will enter as Sycamore's top doubles team. The duo has played together over the past two seasons and were one match away from qualifying for state at last year's sectional championship.
"I think last year at sectionals was the best game we've ever played," Paulsen said of their three-set loss to Kaneland's top doubles team. "We played a tough match."
"It would be a nice thing as seniors to go to state," Mereness added.
The Knights join Sycamore in the St. Charles East Sectional and Kaneland will also feature a formidable postseason lineup.
Sophomore Sammie Schrepferman is seeded as the No. 4 seed in the singles tournament after completing the regular season with a record of 28-3. Two of those losses came to Ye, including one in the conference championship.
"I'm thrilled with how she's played," Kaneland coach Tim Larsen said. "Last year she had a tendency to lose her focus for a couple games or lose her momentum or get frustrated. This year...we can get past it and we can turn the corner."
Sophomore Madi Jurcenko will look to make a return trip to state, but with a new doubles partner this year. After pairing with Amelia Napiorkowski and taking third at sectionals last season, Jurcenko will partner with sophomore Jelly Emmanouil. Together the pair have gone through the regular season undefeated with a mark of a 31-0 and are seeded as the sectional's top doubles team.
"It's really about playing a high-pressure match when it counts," Larsen said. "We intend to be ready and we're going to do the best we can."