SYCAMORE – Months later and at the start of a new season, Dave Lichamer still remembers the Class 2A Hampshire Sectional championship well.
The Sycamore soccer team gave up two goals in the final three minutes to lose to Burlington Central in a game that also saw the Spartans have a goal called off.
With the season set to start March 20 for the Spartans, Lichamer doesn't expect the feelings to dissipate any time soon.
"That crazy ending, the last three minutes, the goal at the end of the half that wasn't a goal," Lichamer said. "It was a nutty game. Unfortunate as it was it will help motivate us going into the year."
The Sweet 16 appearance came a year after the Spartans made the state tournament, finishing third. But they played last year without 2015-16 Daily Chronicle Girls Soccer Player of the Year Ella Holland, the team's top scoring threat.
Holland couldn't do anything but watch as her team fell to the Rockets.
"It was definitely harder cause I was on the bench and couldn't do anything," Holland said. "I tried to be supportive from there."
With Holland out last year, Jenna Lewey moved from centerback to forward to provide a fourth scoring option along side Kierah Meier, Taylor Meier and Saydie Holland – all three are back, including Saydie Holland, who was the Chronicle player of the year last year.
Lewey said she knows what April 7 is this year – an early-season rematch at Burlington Central.
"That's definitely in the back of our minds," Lewey said. "We play them in the beginning of the season, so we're looking to get back and make a statement."
Lewey will be back anchoring the defense this year as the Spartans will have something it's been five years since happened last – an inexperienced goaltender.
Either Gwynneth Boynton, the lower-level keeper last year, or Lilly Horne, a freshman, will be the net minder.
"We've been kind of spoiled the last five years when we've had the keepers we've had, even Schwartz had experience going into last year," said Lichamer of Meaghan Schwartz, who followed two NCAA Division I goalies for the Spartans last year. "Now we're starting off with a keeper who doesn't have a whole lot or any varsity experience."
With all the pieces in place, Lichamer said the team is pacing itself in terms of not focusing to much on a return to the state tournament.
"We're going to start with baby steps. We're not going to do that whole, 'We got to get back to state!'" Lichamer said. "Everyone would like to get back to that level. We certainly have the capability of doing that. But we're going to start simple, take our baby steps, and if it pans out, it pans out."
Lewey said the team definitely has the capability of returning to Naperville for the finale, and Ella Holland agreed.
"We're definitely looking to come out as strong if not better," Holland said. "I think we can be a state team if we work hard."
Coach: Patrick Hamilton (38-21-3, fourth year)
Last year: 13-6-1, lost 4-0 to St. Charles North in the Class 3A DeKalb Regional Championship
Keep an eye on: Emma Rourke was the defensive MVP of the Barbs last season and is back for her senior year.
Also: Haley Brown, sr., D; Bella Bettner, sr., MF; Maddie Hill, sr., MF/F; McKenna Wallin, sr., MF/F; Avery Mertz, sr., GK; Dulce Resendiz, sr., F
Hamitlon's comments: "We're really excited about this year. We return eight seniors and they've been together for a long time. We have high expectations for the group and we look forward to challenging ourselves and seeing where we can go this year."
The lowdown: Four of the seniors have been with Hamilton since his start with the program. Their experience, along with that of younger players like Lindsy Franzene, Christina Ryzhov, Isabel Myers-Miller and Siobhan Gallagher, have the expectations high for the Barbs – a team that only graduated two senors from last year's squad.
Coach: Dave Lichamer (16th year, 233-94-27)
Last year: 19-2-4, lost 2-1 to Burlington Central in the Class 2A Hampshire Sectional championship
Keep an eye on: After missing all of last year, team MVP Ella Holland returns for the Spartans. With her in the lineup two years ago the team was third in state. Last year they made the Sweet 16 without her.
Also: Saydie Holland, jr., F; Erica Coulibaly, jr., MF; Savannah Burns, jr., MF; Taylor Meier, jr., F; Kierah Meier, fresh., F
Lichamer's comments: "A lot of the injuries we had to deal with last year are hitting the end of the road so we should be good to go on that front. I think we're looking to have a little bit better of an end of the season than last year, and I think that's going to be a motivating factor."
The lowdown: Holland is back, combining with her sister and the Meier sisters for a formidable scoring punch. Lewey will switch back to centerback and anchor a defense that features three returners, along with Coulibaly and Burns.
Coach: Scott Parillo
Last year: 11-8-2, lost 4-0 to Sycamore in the championship game of the Class 2A Sycamore Regional
Keep an eye on: Abbie Lomahan stepped into the scoring void left when leading scorer Holly Collingbourne missed a chunk of last year. Now Collingbourne has graduated and Lomahan will look to build off her sophomore campaign, in which she scored 11 goals and had six assists.
Also: Emma Ball, jr., GK; Olivia Lutter, soph., D; Rachel Lutter, jr., D
Parillo's comments: Could not be reached for comment.
The lowdown: The roster has six seniors, all of whom had varying degrees of experience last year. The team is very youthful as they look to make it back past the regional round. Last year was the first time the Knights hadn't advanced beyond a regional since 2014. They lost a sectional final to Sycamore in 2016 and reached the super-sectional round in 2015.
Coach: Randy Tate (13th year, 114-129-10)
Last year: 7-12-2, lost 4-0 to Winnebago in the semifinals of the Class 1A Winnebago Regional.
Keep an eye on: The Cogs graduated some goal scorers from a year ago, but two stout defenders return in junior Rachel Younker and senior Veronica Siegwarth.
Also: Hannah Phillips, sr.; Jessi Pope, sr; Lauren Walker, sr; Sarai Orozco, sr.; Veronica Cieslica, sr.; Brittany Beltran, jr.
Tate's comments: "There isn’t any one dominate player on our team, but we have a great team relationship and hope to use that to help us get some quality wins. There are some holes to fill in the lineup and we are looking for some people to step up and take on the responsibility. I believe we can get our record over .500 and make some noise in the conference."
The lowdown: The Cogs played many, many close games last year, with eight games tied at the end of regulation. They played four straight games that went into penalty kicks last year. With a strong nucleus or returning players, Tate said he expects a big improvement in the club this year.
Indian Creek Timberwolves
Coach: Scott McClure (Second year, 8-8-2)
Last year: 8-8-2, lost 2-1 to Byron in overtime in a Class 1A Byron Regional championship
Keep an eye on: Haley Petragallo had a huge year last spring, making the Daily Chronicle All-Area First Team – in softball. She split her time on the diamond and on the pitch, and this year the senior is playing just soccer as a defender for the Timberwolves.
Also: Marisa VanWyhe, sr., F; Morgan Johnson, sr., MF; Olivia Muetze, sr., F/MF; Olivia Turner, sr., MF; Katie Schilling, sr., F; Sarah Diehl, sr., D; Skyler Kaelin, jr., GK; Katie Cassidy, soph., MF; Olivia Turner, sr., MF
McClure's comments: "I think we'll be pretty solid again. We lost one and senior and a lot of the juniors have progressed. I think we'll be very competitive."
The lowdown: The Timberwolves took No. 1 Byron to overtime last year but fell short after leading 1-0. McClure said it will be a lot of hard work, but expects the team can get past a regional this year, setting it as a goal before the season started. McClure said the team is focused on possession, turning that into scoring opportunities, and added that the senior leadership can't be understated.
• Hinckley-Big Rock coach Kirsten Kubala culd not be reached for comment