Morgan Park will compete in the state bowling meet for the fourth time in six years.
This year, though, feels different.
“This year means the most of any of them,” Mustangs senior Byron Lawson said. “We had to get through a lot of tough teams to get here. We had to prove ourselves more than ever before.”
The IHSA debuted a new postseason format this season, with 16 regionals statewide feeding into four sectionals. Under the old format, teams went straight to sectional play with 12 held across the state.
The idea was to allow more of an opportunity for the best teams to make it to state. Some might have thought the change was bad news for Morgan Park, which in the past has advanced out of city-heavy sectionals that were perceived to be weaker.
Instead, the Mustangs dominated the Brooks Regional — winning it by 181 pins — then went into arguably the toughest sectional in the state, the Andrew Sectional, and finished third in a loaded field to advance.
“No one can say we got here because of an easy sectional this time,” Lawson said.
The Mustangs will be one of 24 teams, including fellow Southland contenders Andrew and Lockport, in the field when the state meet kicks off Friday at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon. The tournament concludes Saturday.
The Mustangs never have advanced to the second day at the state meet — the field is cut to 12 teams after Day 1 — but that could change this year.
“We have a lot of confidence now that we can compete with the best teams in the state,” Lawson said. “We can compete with anyone. This (sectional performance) was a huge confidence boost.”
Lawson, Harold Barbee and Kendrick Wilson provide a formidable senior trio for the Mustangs.
“We know that those guys are usually going to put up big numbers for us,” assistant coach Norm Whitenhill said. “It’s going to come down to how our fourth and fifth bowlers do. That’s been our Achilles’ heel.”
The Mustangs may have solidified one of those final two spots. Sophomore Jabari Johnson turned in a huge performance at the Andrew Sectional, finishing seventh with 1,359 pins over six games.
Juniors Duane Campbell and Julian Maye, sophomore Charles Barry and freshman Malik Coburn round out the team.
Whitenhill knows it’ll take huge games to stay in contention.
“That magical, mythical number is 1,100,” he said. “You want to be sitting around 6,600 after those first six games. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we’re capable of doing it. These guys have really been producing at a high level this year.”