BURLINGTON – Sycamore seniors Scott Nelson and David Compher experienced the worst of Spartan basketball.
As sophomores, Nelson and Compher were moved up to the varsity late in the 2010-11 season. They only played late in games. The Spartans ended that season at 5-20, dragging through a year that couldn’t have seen much enjoyment.
“It definitely wasn’t fun,” Compher said. “When you’re in that position you don’t even want to play for a regional championship, you just want the season to end.”
That was only two years ago, but it must seem like an eternity considering where Sycamore is now. The Spartans defeated Hampshire, 51-44, in the Class 3A Burlington Central Regional final Friday night to take home their first regional championship since 2004.
At the forefront of the change is second-year coach Andrew Stacy, who inherited a program that couldn’t go much lower after that 5-20 season.
Last year the Spartans nearly doubled their win total, going from five wins to nine. It was progress up the mountain, but nowhere near the destination.
Improbably, they doubled the win total again in year two, recording their 19th win on Friday night.
Did Stacy even think the rebuilding process – one any Northern Illinois basketball fan would gladly take in a heartbeat – would take off this quickly?
“Not really,” Stacy said. “I thought we’d take some time.”
Not many, myself included, picked Sycamore to be the last area boys basketball team remaining in the playoffs. DeKalb came into the season as the defending Northern Illinois Big 12 East champions and Kaneland also had a solid core nucleus back. Hinckley-Big Rock even had preseason hopes of going to the state finals.
Yet it’s the Spartans who play on, advancing to the Freeport Sectional semifinals against Wheaton St. Francis on Wednesday.
“As well as these guys have played and as hard as they’ve practiced,” Stacy said, “we started having a good feeling after Christmas that it was possible.”
All Sycamore has done since the holiday is stop an 11-game losing streak to rival DeKalb, come within one game of a conference championship and put up the most wins by a Sycamore boys basketball team in eight seasons.
Sycamore executed in the half court and stayed calm in the face of Hampshire’s late pressure defense. The Spartans played their best two games of the season at the right time, something every team seeks to do. They’ve clearly found a system that works and a leader they trust.
And after the season Nelson and Compher went through two years ago, they might never want this year to end.
“He said we were going to start from new, rebuild from the bottom and see where we can go,” Nelson said. “That was the number-one thing, going in to try and turn around that program. Clearly we’ve done it, but we’re not done yet though.”
Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.