SYCAMORE – Julia Moll could immediately tell this year’s Sycamore girls basketball team was different.
Although the Spartans returned all but one player from last season, their play has drastically changed. When Burlington Central took away junior Bailey Gilbert, the Spartans’ leading scorer last year, in an early tournament game this year, other players stepped up to fill the scoring role.
“We’re a lot more experienced, we play with a lot more poise than we did last year,” Moll said. “We mesh together a lot better as well. We trust each other, we’re just a completely different team than last year.”
Much of that has come from the time the team spent together in the offseason on and off the court. They played together through the Dundee-Crown summer league and the underclassmen also were part of the Sycamore Fury club team.
Moll and Gilbert are two of the more experienced players on a team that is still very young and features Moll as the only senior. Coincidentally, both players are trying to draw more from the strengths of the other to complement their own game.
Moll said she feels more comfortable offensively in her role as a point guard while Gilbert has been striving to show more active leadership, something that Moll does with ease.
“I have a different state of mind. I know I have to step up as a leader, I have to be more of a vocal leader than I was last year,” Gilbert said. “I think this team will feed off of that. It’s taken a lot. I’m working on it a lot in practice.”
The Spartans also beefed up their schedule, switching out of the Harlem tournament to go to the Oswego East tournament, which includes only Class 4A schools. They’ll also play Peoria and Willowbrook in nonconference matchups.
Much of that has come because the Spartans have high internal expectations. While the past couple of years have largely been a learning process, the team sat down and sketched out lofty goals.
“We don’t get babied at all. We’re expected to know a lot more than the year before and we do,” Moll said. “We expect a lot out of each other and our coaches expect a lot out of us. It’s not too much. It’s expected because we can.”
Those goals, which the team chooses to keep private, may include a regional championship, something Sycamore hasn’t achieved since 2003.
They’ll likely be one of the top teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East and certainly much-improved after a 13-13 campaign last year.
“They want to succeed, they want to put their mark on Spartan basketball. I feel good about this group,” Sycamore coach Brett Goff said. “We haven’t had any bad practices yet. The work ethic has been phenomenal. They come to practice ready to go and so far that has been translating over to productive games.”