HAMPSHIRE – Todd Weimer readily admits this year’s Kaneland volleyball team isn’t as talented as last year’s.
The 2011 Knights featured two Daily Chronicle All-Area first-team players who went on to play in college, but that team couldn’t win a playoff match.
After labeling 2012 as a possible rebuilding year, Weimer saw his team mesh in a way that his teams haven’t in the past. On Thursday, the Knights became the first Kaneland team to win a regional title since 1991, defeating Sycamore, 25-19, 25-23, in the Class 3A Hampshire Regional championship.
“This year, I don’t think we have as much talent as we did, but it doesn’t matter,” Weimer said. “Heart beats talent every day, and that’s what these girls have.”
No player on the Kaneland roster even had won a playoff match before Tuesday’s victory over St. Edward, and the Spartans were riding an eight-game winning streak, including a regular-season win against Kaneland, heading into Thursday’s contest.
But the Knights jumped out to an early lead on the Northern Illinois Big 12 co-champions, and led, 16-9, in the first game.
“[The quick start] helped us a lot,” said senior Lauren Banbury, who had five kills. “It helped our mentality to just go out and just play our volleyball.”
Sycamore made a comeback, cutting the lead to 18-17, but the Knights finished the first game on a 6-1 run, with two kills from Banbury closing out the set.
The Knights again jumped out to an early lead in the second game and never trailed. Sycamore pushed back to tie the score at 20, but once again, Kaneland withstood Sycamore’s push, and two Sycamore errors sealed the match for the Knights.
For Sycamore, it was the end of a comeback season that seemed to have the Spartans primed for a long playoff run.
“They didn’t execute,” Sycamore coach Debbie Klock said. “They talked more than we did, they hustled more than we did. We were really, really tight in the first game even though we came way back.”
For the Knights, Saturday’s win was a continuation of a season that keeps on becoming more surprising.
“We all work so well together, we all trusted each other so well,” said Lyndi Scholl, who had seven kills and six digs. “We were together so much that we grew a friendship that we needed to win.”
Weimer doesn’t know how to replicate a run like the one Kaneland is having, because he doesn’t think the qualities that make this team special are teachable. He’ll keep riding the wave of his most successful Kaneland team when it plays Richmond-Burton on Tuesday in the Class 3A Woodstock Sectional semifinals.
“When you get a team that works together, that loves each other, that’s a very tough team to beat,” Weimer said. “I can’t teach girls to want to be at practice, I can’t teach girls to talk. I can give them tips and suggestions, but the girls on the floor, it’s their decisions that determines the outcome.”