Kaneland got the start it wanted Thursday night in the Class 3A Sandwich regional championship game.
The finish was another story.
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After putting away 13 kills with just 3 hitting errors in a 25-17 Game 1 victory, the Knights had just 12 kills in the next two games while making 8 errors as the Spartans stormed back to win both games, 25-12 and 25-18.
Third-seeded Sycamore (16-17) advances to the Princeton sectional on Tuesday while the No. 1 seeded Knights ended their season at 16-16.
"I think it might have been the nerves and our experience," the Knights' lone senior Jenny Lubic said. "We're a young team. We came out with a lot of energy. I think that second game once we started getting behind we made more mistakes and couldn't pick ourselves back up."
Sycamore led 11-8 in Game 1 when Ellie Dunn stepped to the service line and scored five straight points.
Leading 18-16, the Knights won a wild point started by sprawling digs from libero Kathy Nguyen and Lubic and ended on a kill from sophomore Vanessa Gould.
Dunn, the junior committed to Ball State, put away Game 1 with kills on 4 of the Knights' final 5 points.
Sycamore again took an early lead in Game 2 and this time the Spartans kept building on it instead of letting the Knights back in the game. Taking command at 12-5 and 20-8, the Spartans played a flawless game with scrappy defense to deny Kaneland's big hitters while putting away 12 kills with just 2 hitting errors on their side.
"We just had to go out and fight," Sycamore coach Eric Nore said. "I just kept saying just do what you are capable of doing. I'm really proud of them. Some great leadership when it needed to happen."
Kaneland coach Kerri McCastland called an early timeout down 6-2 in Game 3. The Knights did respond with a 10-6 run for a 12-10 lead on one of the Spartans' 9 service errors in the match.
But the Knights immediately followed with one of their 11 service errors, then a stretch of three straight points they hit the ball out or into the net. Sycamore took the lead at 13-12 and never tailed again.
"We couldn't get out of what we were falling into," Lubic said.
Matelyn Hayes led a balanced Sycamore attack with 8 kills.
"We'll see what happens from here," Nore said. "We're playing in November. That was our mantra, we wanted to be playing in November.
"Kerry has a great program, a lot of youth, they are going to be around for a long time."
Those young Knights include Dunn (13 kills, 14 digs), Riley Hannula (6 blocks) and Gould (7 kills, 8 digs).
Lubic finished with 25 assists and 4 blocks in her final match as a three-year starter and four-year varsity player.
"It's definitely a surreal feeling," Lubic said. "It's bittersweet. A lot of good memories playing Kaneland volleyball. It's made me a better person."