MAPLE PARK – Karli Kruizenga had to go to work in the afternoon April 30, but there’s no doubt the Sycamore junior had a big smile on her face and a great sports story to share.
Kruizenga ignited the celebration of an Interstate 8 Conference tournament championship for the Spartans after she converted her penalty kick attempt during a shootout against Kaneland.
Kruizenga was the fourth consecutive Sycamore player to find the back of the net for the Spartans while the Knights failed to convert their first two chances after the teams battled through a scoreless regulation.
“I have to work today, but I can tell every day I did that,” Kruizenga said. “My parents and my grandmother were here today. It was awesome. We had a big crowd with other Sycamore parents and everything. It was nice to have them here.”
It also was mighty fine for the Spartans to have Tayla Brannstrom in goal. While she didn’t stop any of Kaneland’s PK attempts, she was strong through regulation, when the Knights threatened on numerous occasions.
“I work very well with my defense and we definitely have a good connection,” she said. “[Kaneland] is good at playing the ball on the ground and I think that’s one of our strengths, so we were able to match that.”
Brigid Gannon, Emily Kunzer, Katie Kurz, Audrey Salamon and Jade Schrader were among the Knights who tested Brannstrom with shots that she either denied or watched sail off the mark.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t finish any of them and go to PKs,” Knights coach Scott Parillo said. “I thought we outplayed them today. We definitely had more shots, more everything.”
Kaneland (12-3-1, 5-1) had blanked Sycamore (9-7-1, 5-1) on April 4 by a 3-0 score.
“It’s been a rivalry,” Spartans coach Kevin Bickley said. “I coached here [at Kaneland] for 12, 13 years as an assistant to Scott and he has a great program. We played here earlier in the season and we were working this week on just having the confidence to come out against a good team and I felt like the girls went out there and it showed today. They can play with these teams.”
The shootout was held against the wind on the same side of the field as the scoreboard.
It was Kaneland’s first shootout of the season. Sycamore lost one against Burlington Central earlier this month.
Ella Shipley, who got hurt and didn’t participate in the shootout against Burlington Central, oozed confidence as she buried her attempt against Kaneland. Olivia Conery and Abby Bourage followed with goals after Kaneland missed twice to put Sycamore ahead 3-0.
“I’ve made two PKs, so I’m confident and have my spot in my mind,” Shipley said. “We kept our poise. We did a really, really good job of just playing confidently when we could.”
Kurz made her PK to keep Kaneland’s hopes alive, but Kruizenga followed with a goal to give the Spartans the conference title.
“It was good to see our hard work pay off,” Bickley said. ”No one likes to win or lose on penalties, but we knew that was possible. We wanted to defend. We didn’t want to give up goals. We haven’t scored against them [since May 7, 2019], so we knew we weren’t going to get a lot of opportunities.”
They had a lot of confidence they could win.
“We knew going in that Kaneland is always competitive,” Shipley said. “They are so sound on the ball. Our emphasis today was going in with confidence, confidence, confidence and to possess the ball. I think that translated in the game and why we were able to compete so hard.”