Lincoln-Way West senior Morgan Flaherty is reminded of her historic accomplishment every time she walks into her school’s gym.
There on the wall hangs a six-foot wooden cutout of the state of Illinois with her name on it, enshrining in perpetuity the memory of what Flaherty did last February at the Cherry Bowl in Rockford, when she won the state bowling championship with the third-highest score in the 33-year history of the state finals.
Flaherty is the first athlete to win a state championship for Lincoln-Way West, which opened in 2009.
“I was super happy,” Flaherty said. “The thing that made it so much better was that it was the first time for the school, so I got a lot of attention.
“It was a huge accomplishment for me, too, because I did not go into state thinking, ‘oh, I’m going to win this.’ I was just like, ‘This is something new, this is going to be fun.’ I wasn’t expecting too much.”
Bowling did not have a high profile at the New Lenox school, but Flaherty changed that. She was honored at halftime of a boys basketball game, giving a crystal etched with her name and her winning score and was feted with a pep rally.
“It was definitely a lot and I’m super shy, too, so I was standing in front of my whole school and I was like, ‘oh, this is kind of weird,’” Flaherty said. “But I was happy.”
Flaherty is getting accustomed to the attention, which is fortunate because the spotlight will be firmly fixed on her this winter as she attempts to become the first Chicago-area girl to win two state titles. Only two girls have won multiple championships and only Rockford East’s Liz Berg (1998 and 1999) has done so in back-to-back years.
At least seven other bowlers have failed in their quest to win a second crown, so Flaherty knows her task is difficult.
“I definitely want to go back this year,” Flaherty said. “I’m not determined to go back and win. I would love that, too, but my goal this year is just to get down there and have a chance.
“It’s definitely going to be hard. I’m definitely going to have to work for it and I’m not expecting it, especially [considering] last year how I barely made it down.”
Flaherty qualified for state by just two pins, an example of how capricious the postseason can be. Plainfield South’s Amanda Chamberlin was second as a sophomore in 2009 and 10th the following year but did not get past sectionals as a senior.
“[The repeat try] is a lot of pressure,” Lincoln-Way West coach Scott Jablonski said. “Bowling is such a tough sport. You need that little bit of magic.
“Is she good enough? Yes, absolutely. We’ve just got to keep her focused.”
Flaherty vows she will be.
“Sectionals is not going to be a day where I’m going to be like, ‘oh, this is my time,’” she said. “I’m just going to focus on bowling that day and not think ahead, because that will definitely throw me off.”
Earlier in her career, focus was something Flaherty had trouble with. Driven by her competitive nature, she was always watching what other bowlers were doing. But that changed at last year’s state meet.
Despite never having bowled at the Cherry Bowl until the night before the tournament, Flaherty grabbed the lead on the first day and led wire-to-wire on the second day en route to a 12-game series of 2,764, 80 pins better than Sandburg’s Nicole Powell.
“That was something that her and I worked hard at,” Jablonski said. “I said, ‘hey, I just keep you lined up and you just execute.’ We trusted her ability and it was so much fun.”
With 11 of the top 12 finishers returning, including Flaherty’s friend Powell, this season figures to be one for the record books, regardless of whether Flaherty repeats.
“[Repeating] would definitely mean a lot to me because bowling is such a big part of me,” Flaherty said. “That would definitely finish off my high school career.”
Flaherty, who hopes to bowl in college, plans on becoming a high school teacher and perhaps return to West as a coach, something Jablonski would love to see.
“That would be fantastic, especially the name recognition she has,” Jablonski said. “Her name will be on the wall forever.”
Top 5 Girls Bowling Teams
1. Waubonsie Valley – Warriors return all by one starter from third-place team.
2. Andrew – Thunderbolts aiming to become first area team since 1989 to win consecutive state titles.
3. Leyden – Eagles have the talent to win first trophy by a girls team in school history.
4. Oswego East – Giselle Poss and teammates missed a trophy by 52 pins last winter.
5. Minooka – Alison Warwick and Allyson Lakota lead reigning state runner-up.
Top 10 Girls Bowlers (in alphabetical order)
Charley Barbary, Sr., Waubonsie Valley; Cassie Boat, Sr., Andrew; Morgan Flaherty, Sr., Lincoln-Way West; Reba Hall, Jr., Leyden; Julianne Kowalski, Jr., Joliet West; Giselle Poss, Sr., Oswego East; Nicole Powell, Sr., Sandburg; Cheyenne Valdez, Jr., Oswego; Brianna Zabierek, Sr., Lockport; Nicole Zopf, Jr., Andrew.