Girls soccer: Kate Elsner’s goal helps Sycamore to first playoff win since 2019

Anya Berry adds second goal for Spartans in 2-0 win over Woodstock

Sycamore's Kate Elsner gets behind two Woodstock players and scores a goal during their Class 2A regional semifinal game Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at Kaneland High School in Maple Park.

MAPLE PARK – It’s been less than two weeks since the Sycamore girls soccer team lost two key seniors in the same game.

But since then the Spartans not only beat Kaneland to secure a share of the Interstate 8 crown, but on Wednesday knocked off Woodstock 2-0 in a Class 2A Kaneland Regional semifinal to win their first playoff game since 2019.

“First playoff game girls soccer has won in a while, it’s really big for our team,” said Kate Elsner, who scored the first goal for the Spartans. “I think it’s great for our confidence. And the reason we were able to win this game is because we care about each other. We put each other before the game, and that’s where we really stand out.”

Playing again without senior midfielder Jaycie Funderburg and Jordyn Tilstra, who were both on the sidelines in leg braces, coach Kevin Bickley said a pair of unlikely scorers came through for the Spartans (17-8). Elsner fired off a rocket from about 10 yards beyond the goal box, placed perfectly in the top left of the goal and out of the reach of Woodstock goalie Valerie Sardelli with 14:36 left in the first half.

With 20:01 left in the match, Kylie Runkle found Anya Berry, who scored for a 2-0 Sycamore lead.

Berry scored the winning penalty kick last week when the Spartans knocked off Kaneland. Wednesday was Elsner’s ninth goal of the season and Berry’s fourth.

“Two maybe unlikely scorers, but that’s just how the season has gone,” Bickley said “It doesn’t have to be just one. And those two girls stepped up, and the defense did another great job not giving up any goals.”

Woodstock (9-11-1) had some chances to score but failed to connect. Three times in the game freshman Kendall Pope slipped past the Sycamore defense but couldn’t catch up to the passes, two of them coming from junior Brooklyn Kentgen.

Woodstock coach Brian Thomas said he liked how his team moved the ball in the loss.

“It just wasn’t our day. We couldn’t find the back of the net,” Thomas said. “It’s just one of those things. We’re a young team, we’re only graduating three seniors. I think our youth showed today. But I think another season or two that play is going in the back of the net.”

Thomas said it was a positive season, one in which the fifth-seeded Blue Streaks went 5-4 in the Kishwaukee River Conference and at one point had a five-game winning streak.

Wednesday was only the third time the Blue Streaks were shutout, with Spartans’ goalie Tayla Brannstrom and the defense recording their 15th shutout of the season.

“I think we had a successful season,” Thomas said. “We were up and down. The girls worked hard all season, so I can’t hang my head on the record. Our record does not show the effort the girls put in.”

The No. 3 Spartans will face No. 2 Kaneland at 11 a.m. Saturday for the regional title, with the winner advancing to the Belvidere Sectional. The Knights won the first meeting 1-0 in Sycamore, with the Spartans taking the match last week in Maple Park on PK’s after a scoreless regulation.

“Everyone has confidence in each other,” Elsner said. “There’s no one person that doubts another. We’re all in it together. We know it’s a team effort. No one is like ‘I’ve got to win this game by myself.’ No, we’re all passing the ball and unselfish.”

Bickley said it’s been that tight-knit, team-first attitude that has not only worked well all season but will be pivotal in the rubber match against Kaneland, which beat Harvard 8-0 on Tuesday in the other semifinal.

“[Funderburg and Tilstra] really stepped up this year and when they went down, I think most teams probably would have collapsed,” Bickley said. “I don’t know what it is, but since Day 1 this team has been very, very tight. When one’s down, two are down, one, two step up. And that’s how it’s been all season.”

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