SYCAMORE – Not many of the girls on the Sycamore bowling team knew who Jason Schepler was before Wednesday afternoon.
But the Spartans, who took third place in last week’s regional and advanced to Saturday’s sectional in Freeport, gathered around a small table at Four Seasons Sports and listened to what the 2008 Sycamore alumnus and current Tennessee Titan had to say about dealing with failure, consistently supporting teammates and visualizing success.
“Every time I mess up I take it really hard and I can’t let go of it,” freshman Alexis Kolberg said. “So when he said he separates himself from [his mistakes], I’ll take that into consideration a lot.”
Sycamore has seen its share of both success and failure this season. Coach Andy Hampton said the Spartans excelled in dual matches, but struggled in tournaments throughout the season.
When Sycamore was 11th out of 12 teams after the first game Saturday, Hampton thought the tournament would follow a similar storyline. But aided by bowling at their home alley, Sycamore rallied to place third behind Marengo and Belvidere North and claim a sectional spot.
Their scores over the final two games were better than any other team in the tournament.
“What happened on Saturday, none of my thoughts even included the possibility that we were going to advance,” Hampton said. “They took it upon themselves that second game and never looked back.”
Much of the inconsistency has come from Sycamore’s youth. When the Spartans travel to Freeport on Saturday, they will bring a team of four sophomores and two freshmen, most likely the youngest team in the state.
But the team has used its collective youth to foster greater team chemistry. They have team bonding activities every Friday, and Hampton describes the girls as a “group of sisters.”
“I think the team is closer and we bowl every Saturday. [On junior varsity] we didn’t,” sophomore Baylee Ricker said. “We’re all going to be together for the rest of our years (at Sycamore), so we know that we’re going to grow up together.”
Hampton said the new regional format was likely an advantage for his young team to get its feet wet in another pressure tournament setting before moving on to sectionals.
The competition will only get better as Freeport and Rockford Guilford both are state-ranked. But like Schepler told the team before Wednesday’s practice, its thoughts should solely be on its own performance.
“We can’t concern ourselves with what [other teams] do. The only thing we can control is us,” Hampton said. “Let’s focus on us, let’s concentrate on us and we’ll see where the dice shake out.”