FREEPORT, Ill. (WIFR) – After playing her semifinal game against Forreston at Pretzel Stadium last Saturday, Lena-Winslow found herself there again as the Panthers prepared for their sixth state title since 2010.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” said Le Win head coach Ric Arand.
After a 9-0 record in the regular season, the Panthers were nothing short of dominant, averaging over 53 points per game and keeping their opponents under 11 points per game. The team feels poised after a season that saw four NUIC teams earn four 1A North Quarterfinal spots in this year’s playoffs.
“It was just great to have four (NUIC) teams in the (quarter)finals and the last four were up here,” said Arand, “I think that’s why our conference fought so hard for state championships has because they are playoffs are prepared throughout the season who we play with.
Although the 13-0 start was never a guarantee, the team had to reload after a state title run in 2021.
“We lost nine players last year on offense and seven or eight on defense or something and for those guys to come out and play like they did this year, that really says something about them,” Arand said.
“We actually lost a lot of people last year who were our leaders, so it’s been really impressive to see just the seniors step up and fill the roles that they have and keep the culture going,” Le- Win quarterback Drew Streckwald.
However, the team is poised to keep reloading as the deep playoff runs help develop younger players.
“To be able to practice 14 weeks instead of nine weeks, it really adds up, I mean you get five extra exercises every year, which is 20 extra exercises a year, which is a crazy amount, and you kind of get used to it,” said Le-Win Safety Ayden Packard.
The two players also said their testimony as freshmen and juniors should help with the mental side of Friday’s game.
“Going there twice before it calms you down a bit, you’re not that shaky when you get into the dressing room, not that nervous when warming up, so it’s definitely nice to have been there two more times,” said stretch forest.
“You know you’re going into a playoff game and the nerves, obviously you still have nerves, nerves are a great thing, but if you soften it up a little bit, you get used to it a little bit more,” Packard said.
Now the Panthers just need to get out there and end their season strong.
“Enjoy it because if you don’t sit back and enjoy it, it’s over before you know it and when you step onto the field, you’re having a lot of fun,” Arand said.
“This has been the dream since we were in seventh grade, when we were on a football team for the first time, so it’s just crazy to finally be here,” Streckwald said.
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