SYCAMORE – Aaron Williams stood at the back of the Four Seasons bowling alley with a smile that stretched as far as it could go.
More than 72 hours after the Sycamore boys bowling team had captured an improbable sectional championship on Saturday, Williams, the team's head coach, still couldn't believe the Spartans were headed to state after recording a program-best, six-game series of 6,578 pins.
The experience isn't anything new to Sycamore or Williams, who had won two previous sectional titles and took fourth at state in 2011, but the the fact that Sycamore used three freshmen on varsity made this year's run unexpected.
"It was classic ... they just killed it," Williams said. "I can't explain it. It was just a thing."
Sycamore, featuring three seniors, a sophomore and three freshmen, has gone through an up-and-down season that has seen the Spartans take third in the Northern Illinois Big 12 regular season, win the conference tournament and then take second to DeKalb at regionals.
It's the youngest lineup Williams has ever rolled out in his nine years at Sycamore and he has depended on seniors Kyle Bonnell, Brendan Fank and Alex Burchard to serve as mentors throughout the year.
"Last year I wasn't really that big into the leadership part," Bonnell said. "It was a big jump going from getting advice to giving advice."
Freshman Trevor Smith's 1,382 series actually paced the Spartans on Saturday and his total was fourth overall at the sectional, something Williams said is "unheard of" for such a young bowler.
Bonnell and Burchard are the only two members who have experience at state. Bonnell qualified as an individual last year as a junior and Burchard was part of the Spartans' last team to qualify for state three years ago as a freshman.
"Although I didn't bowl I got to learn a lot about how tournaments go," Burchard said. "That year I didn't bowl in any tournament because the nerves just got to me all the time. But now I'm better with nerves and I don't crack under pressure."
Sycamore will travel down to O'Fallon on Thursday morning before completing an afternoon practice session to get ready for Friday's preliminary round.
It's a familiar place for Williams and Sycamore, but they enter in a role they're unaccustomed to. With the highest sectional total among the 24 qualified teams, Sycamore is now considered the favorite.
"It's strange because we talked about it as a team in practice and we always like to call ourselves the underdog," Williams said. "I always tell these guys let's go in as an underdog. But now we talked about having a target on our back."