At the midway point of the season, the Vernon Hills boys bowling team was not a squad that was penciled in for the state tournament.
“We were struggling,” sophomore Chris Winter said. “I’m not sure if anyone thought we would make the state tournament.”
So even though state did not go as planned, the Cougars said just making it to St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon was an accomplishment. On Friday, Vernon Hills shot 6,044 over six games, an average of 201.5 per bowler (good for 18th place). Only the top 10 teams advanced to Saturday’s finals. Rockford Guilford would finish first with a pin total of 13,107 (218.5 average). Andrew in Tinley Park was second with 13,002 pins.
Winter and senior Justin Becker did advance as individuals to Saturday’s action. Winter (208.4) and Becker (206.1) finished 46th and 55th, respectively. Joshuan Glover, a senior at Lincoln-Way West, used a 300 game to average a tournament-best 247.3.
“Things didn’t fall into place at state and a bad game can catch up with you quick, but getting there was a great accomplishment for this team,” Cougars coach Ron Long said.
Vernon Hills was the fourth and final team to make it out of the Lake Zurich Regional Jan. 18. At the Rockford Boylan Sectional Jan. 25, the Cougars came through with their best performance of the season. Vernon Hills bowlers averaged 214.4 pins per game and finished in third place.
“We had such a great week of practice,” Long said. “We were able to beat teams [such as] Stevenson and Lake Zurich that were ahead of us at regionals.”
At the state tournament, Winter came out firing in the opening set. He opened with a 249 on his way to a 751 series. For much of that first set, when he looked at the leader board, he was as high as second place.
“It was exhilarating, almost hard to explain,” he said. “My ball and lane position were working together, and I was stringing a lot of strikes.”
In the second set, Winter put together two solid games (202 and 203) before dropping to a 174. On Saturday, his two high games were a 234 and a 218. Unfortunately, his other four games were under 200.
“My ball wasn’t gripping the lanes,” Winter said. “I couldn’t seem to find the right combination.”
He wasn’t at all upset with a 46th-place finish. Only three sophomores and two freshmen averaged higher than he did.
“This was a great learning experience for him and he did fantastic,” Long said. “He approaches every shot the same way and has a lot of the characteristics [you want] in a bowler.”
Added Becker, “It’s amazing that he’s only a sophomore. He’s really consistent and has a lot of talent.”
Becker also started the tournament fast with a 269 game. He followed that with games of 212 and 227 for a 708 series. His next series was a 622, but he struggled on Saturday with series scores of 572 and 571.
“I wasn’t bowling well, so to start the tournament that way was pretty spectacular,” Becker said.
Long said that this tournament was a fitting finish for Becker.
“His two older brothers bowled on the team and he couldn’t wait to bowl in high school,” Long said. “He contributed a lot to this team.”