Girls soccer: Kaneland settles for share of Interstate 8 crown after loss to Sycamore

Everything seemed lined up for Kaneland to beat Sycamore on Monday and claim an outright Interstate 8 title.

The Spartans were down two senior starters, the Knights were relentlessly attacking the Sycamore net in the final 15 minutes, and, when the game went to penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation, Kaneland made its first two while the Spartans missed theirs.

But when it came time for Anya Berry to take a penalty kick, the junior backup connected in the high-pressure situation to give the Spartans the win and a share of the I-8 crown.

“I was really stressed out,” Berry said. “I was like, it’s just got to go in. I prayed, walked up, took a deep breath and hit it like I always do. ... This was a really important game for us, and I didn’t want to let my team down.”

Berry placed the ball in the left corner past junior goalie Natalie Myers in the bottom of the sixth round of PKs, getting the chance after Tayla Brannstrom turned away her fourth consecutive PK to start the round, neglecting senior Alexandra Warrington’s attempt.

It’s the second of three seasons the Spartans (15-7, 9-1) denied the Knights (12-6, 9-1) an outright and undefeated I-8 title on their home field in penalty kicks. In 2022, the Spartans won the conference tournament final after a scoreless regulation. The conference stopped the tournament for home-and-home series.

“It’s deja vu, because we were here two years ago,” Brannstrom said. “The dynamic of it is so much different. Two years ago I feel like we were just a bunch of players. This year we feel like a team. My defense, I rely on them so much, and I think they’re really the reason for this win.”

Kyra Lilly and Mallory Nitsche came out of the gate with goals on their PKs, both going top right against Brannstrom. Myers turned away Cortni Kruizenga and Izzie Segreti as both tried to go left. Myers had to dive and swat while fully extended to deny Kruizenga, then deflected Segreti.

Sycamore made their next two PKs, with Grace Amptmann and Faith Schroeder connecting. At the start of the fifth round, Erin Doucette tried going straight at Brannstrom and was turned away. Brannstrom had a chance to win it at the end of the fifth round, but her shot went off the crossbar.

“You go out to a 2-0 lead on PKs and miss your next four, that’s a bummer,” Kaneland coach Scott Parillo said. “Sometimes you can have the better chances and come up empty, and we came up empty today. We’re still conference champions, co-champions, but I still think the girls are disappointed, because we had numerous opportunities to finish and we just didn’t do it today.”

Both teams had chances in regulation, but Kaneland dominated the second half, especially the final 15 minutes. In the 66th minute, Zoe Gannon had a look at the net, but Sycamore defender Hailey Clawson came in and broke it up. Two minutes later Hannah Boyer had a shot but Brannstrom elevated to make the save.

In the 71st minute Boyer got past the defense, but Tayanna Clark chased her down and cleared the ball.

Kaneland’s best chance came in the 76th minute. Casey O’Brien headed a cross to the left side of the net, past Brannstrom, who was caught out of position. But the shot hit the upright just in front of the line and shot away from the goal, cleared by Sycamore.

“It should have gone in,” Brannstrom said of O’Brien’s shot. “I still can’t put it into words. We’re so grateful for the win and so relieved to finally get through this. We’ve been looking forward to this game all year. We were supposed to have it in the beginning of the season, it kept getting pushed back and pushed back. We’ve been waiting for it. We’re hungry for it, and it feels really good to get it.”

The Spartans were without seniors Jordyn Tilstra and Jaycie Funderburg. Both injured their knees against Winnebago on Thursday, and Bickley said the extent of the injuries is unknown. Both were on crutches, and he said they seem likely to both miss the remainder of the season.

Both teams start play next week in the Class 3A Kaneland Regional. The teams could potentially play back in Sycamore for the regional title May 18.

“Unfortunately we were off by a couple of inches, otherwise it’s a 4-0, 5-0 game,” Parillo said. “I thought their keeper played great, made a couple of really great saves on us.”

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