Spartans' second-half run clinches first regional title since 2003

PLANO – After Friday's Class 3A Plano Regional final, the song "We Are the Champions" by Queen blared through the loudspeakers.

After Sycamore's 40-20 win over Kaneland, the Spartans did the customary postgame handshake with the Knights and ran back toward the bench to celebrate.

It wasn't too long before Sycamore coach Brett Goff was cutting down the nets and the Spartans (21-7) were taking pictures with the championship plaque.

A celebration like this isn't customary for Sycamore girls basketball, a program that hadn't won a regional championship since 2003.

The Spartans advanced to Monday's Belvidere Sectional semifinals, where they will play the winner of today's Aurora Central Catholic Regional final between Burlington Central and St. Edward.

"If I could explain it I would, but I can't really find the words to do it. It's basically just actions, all of the hard work we put in over the summer and even the spring before that, when our season ended last year," Sycamore senior guard Julia Moll said. "It was a real heartbreaker for us, and so I think we took it the right way and started working so hard in that offseason. Things just came together."

During the Spartans' first practice of the season, Goff pointed toward the team's regional banner from 11 years ago, instituting a regional title as one of the team's goals.

"One of the first things I did (was say), 'Look at the banner up there. It's been since 2003 since anything's been added up there. I think you guys have the capability of getting your name up there a couple times,' " Goff said after the Spartans' win. "It didn't happen with conference, but it definitely did with regionals."

Sycamore took an early lead on the Knights on Friday as four players got on the board in the first quarter. However, Kaneland roared back with 13 in the second, closing the period on a 10-2 run as Sycamore went into halftime leading by three.

Kaneland got off to a good start in the second half, as well, with Ally VanBogaert hitting an early 3. But after that it was all Spartans, as Sycamore outscored Kaneland 20-2 the rest of the game.

"We wanted to press and take them out of rhythm a little bit," Goff said. "They were getting some easy steals and converting those to points."

Morgan Picolotti led the Spartans with 11 points. Baylee Foresman added 10 and Moll finished with eight. The Knights used a box-and-one defense on Sycamore's top scorer, Bailey Gilbert, holding her to five points.

The Knights, who upset Sycamore last week and cost the Spartans the conference title, finish the season 14-15.

"I'm extremely proud of that group of seniors. We didn't finish up how we wanted, but I mean, that's life. That's part of why you coach, part of why you teach, is there's life lessons," Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe said. "Like I said, we're not down because the effort was there tonight. We played our butts off on defense. We just couldn't hit a shot."