DeKALB – Katie Kowalski remembers feeling sick to her stomach before games in 2011, the DeKalb pitcher's freshman season.
"I'm a freshman going up against juniors and seniors," Kowalski said. "I have to prove myself and show I can compete at this level and I'm good enough to be up here."
When asked about playing on varsity as freshmen, fellow seniors Sarah Friedlund and Jessica Townsend remember feeling scared.
"It's really scary and intimidating having everyone being older than you," Townsend said. "You're new. You've never played a high school sport before. It's really scary and can be intimidating. After a while you just become part of the team and everything, you really don't think about age anymore. You always feel like the underdog, kind of."
The three players all were starters on DeKalb's sectional championship team in 2011. Barbs senior catcher Lindsey Costliow was brought up for the postseason to be a pinch-runner.
Kowalski struck out 208 batters in 160 innings as a freshman, finished with a 2.63 ERA and was named the Daily Chronicle's Player of the Year. Friedlund started in right field for the Barbs while Townsend was the team's left fielder. Both were honorable mention all-area selections that season.
"When I went to tryouts, I was at least trying to get into the sophomore or JV team. And [DeKalb coach Jeff Davis] called me up, and me and Jessica, we've been playing for years and we were excited," said Friedlund, who is now the Barbs' starting third baseman. "Katie was with us and we were so crazy. We had such a great season, which made it that more special and something we'll never forget."
Fast forward three years, and the trio, now seniors, is looking for another sectional title. DeKalb (27-7) will face Barrington (26-11) in the Class 4A Jacobs Sectional final at 3 p.m. Saturday. The normal nervousness they felt has freshmen has subsided, and now the trio is a group Davis hopes the rest of the team looks up to.
All three have been a huge part of DeKalb's success. Kowalski struggled with injuries as a sophomore and junior but is back to her normal self. After going 2-0 with two shutouts in the Huntley Regional, she overcame a rough start in Tuesday's 8-4 sectional semifinal win over McHenry, giving up three earned runs while earning the win.
After falling behind 4-0, Friedlund's fifth-inning, three-run homer gave DeKalb the lead for good against the Warriors. Townsend has been holding down the fort in center field, and in DeKalb's regional semifinal win over Rockford Jefferson, she finished with two doubles and an RBI.
The Barbs' trio has been to the sectional final twice – DeKalb topped Cary-Grove, 3-0, in 2011 and lost, 6-1, to Gurnee Warren last season.
Saturday, they hope to help bring back memories from their freshman year.
"You remember what it feels like. You know it's something special and it's something that doesn't happen every year," Friedlund said of the sectional championship three seasons ago. "... Being able to come back and do what we did freshman year just brings back all those memories and makes you want to do better than when we were doing that. Try and be a bigger part of what it was."