Girls soccer: Kaneland drops regional final on PKs

For the second time in less than two weeks, Sycamore came onto Kaneland’s home field and came away with a victory on penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation.

When it happened two weeks ago it gave the Spartans a share of the Interstate 8 crown. And when it happened Saturday, it gave Sycamore the Class 2A Kaneland regional championship.

“For the past couple practices my coach has been like pounding us, like we have to get this, we deserve this, we want this, just putting that in our heads,” said Tayla Brannstrom, who stopped all three Kaneland PK attempts while Sycamore made three of its first four. “It feels absolutely amazing to finally get this and have it after so many years of winning our first regional [game].”

After the game was tied 0-0 at the end of the overtime, the Spartans won on penalty kicks 3-0. Sycamore (18-8) claimed a regional title for the first time since 2019. Before beating Woodstock in a semifinal earlier this week, that was the same year the Spartans last won a playoff game.

Now they’ll face Rockford Boylan in a semifinal of the Class 3A Belvidere Sectional at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Sycamore lost to Boylan 1-0 earlier in the season.

Each team missed their first penalty kicks after 80 scoreless regulation minutes and 20 more of overtime.

But Grace Amptmann connected in the second round for Sycamore while Brannstrom turned away Kaneland’s Mallory Nitsche. In the third round, Faith Schroeder scored for the Spartans, then Brannstrom drove toward the left post to barely deflect Jade Schrader’s attempt.

That brought up Anya Berry for Sycamore, who connected on the deciding shot against Kaneland (13-8) the last time around. She did so again, going left to seal the win.

“Honestly, it’s so much practice,” Brannstrom said. “We do penalty kicks at every single practice. So I’ve just gotten so used to reading people’s hips and how their stance is and how they’re going to go for it. But really, penalty kicks, it’s all luck. It’s all interpretation. If the shooter shoots it right there’s no saving it.”

Brannstrom allowed the first two PKs to go in against Kaneland in the meeting earlier this month, but turned away the next four as the Spartans won. She’s now turned away seven PKs in a row.

“She seems to read the direction of the ball, reads the direction of where the ball’s going,” Sycamore coach Kevin Bickley said. “Even if a girl goes left or right, she seems to be going the right way every time. ... I think she just goes in there with confidence. She knows going into it if she makes one or two saves and our kickers do what they should do, we should win.”

The defenses dominated regulation, with both teams having few good scoring opportunities. Sycamore’s Peyton Wright had a good look at the net off a feed from Elizabeth Goff, but pushed the shot too far left in the first half.

Schrader had a beautiful shot from the middle of the field head straight up toward the goal, but Brannstrom elevated and came away with the save in the second half.

“We played well, it’s just a matter of not finishing our opportunities,” Kaneland coach Scott Parillo said. “I don’t know what it is, and we’ve practiced shooting and PKs I can’t tell you how many times the last few days we’ve practiced those. But sometimes it happens. It seems to be a recurring theme with Sycamore, though.”

Kaneland won the first meeting between the teams 1-0. Sycamore didn’t score on the Knights outside of penalty kicks this season but beat them in two high-stakes game in the last two weeks.

“We’re 1-2 against Sycamore this year and yet they haven’t scored on us in regulation because we’re going to PKs,” Parillo said, adding that he and Bickley are pushing for ties in conference play instead of going to penalty kicks. “But you gotta make PKs, it’s as simple as that. And once again we didn’t do it.”

Parillo said he’s proud of how the season went for the Knights, especially since they lost three-time conference MVP Emily Kunzer early in the season due to an injury. They ended up co-champs of the I-8 and reaching a regional final.

“It was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun with these girls,” Parillo said. “Obviously losing Emily didn’t help, you know. Different team. You lose the three-time player of the year in the conference and you’ve got to adjust. And it took us a few games.”

Sycamore ended up picking up its first regional title since 2019, Bickley’s first at the school after being a longtime assistant at Kaneland under Parillo.

“We felt confident after the first two games with them we had a shot at it,” Bickley said. “These girls talked about getting that next chance with a regional, and you could see it on the field. These girls just wouldn’t quit.”

Sycamore's Peyton Wright (14) and Kaneland's Erin Doucette (14) collide while going after the ball during the regional title game held on Saturday May 18, 2024, at Kaneland High School. David Toney
Kaneland's Adriana Warrington (10) kicks the ball away while being defended by Sycamore's Lizzie Goff (1) during the regional title game on Saturday May 18, 2024, held at Kaneland High School. David Toney
Kaneland's Audrey Noring (21) and Sycamore's Hannah Raetzke (23) battle for the ball during the regional title game held on Saturday May 18, 2024, at Kaneland High School. David Toney
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