In the second year of the US High School Bowling National Championship, it didn’t take long for Illinois to flex its muscle bringing home first and second-place finishes, both coming from the state champs, Harlem.
On the girl’s side, the Huskies finished qualifying in third place before working their way up to the championship behind the roster of Laura Bartelt, Alexandra Huffington, Treasure Childs, Angel Grinnall, Rebecca Hagerman, Mylee McCracken, Stephanie Richards and Kayla Verstraete.
“It was incredible,” Hagerman said. “It was about endurance and focus. We stayed together as a team and were prepared. This win is way up there. It is better than state. I still think it was a dream because it was so unbelievable.”
“I believe the reasons for team’s success was staying consistent with our shots and spares, picking each teammate up when needed, and being as driven as we were for state,” Richards said.
Winning the national title on top of the state title was an impressive feat, but it was hard to compare the two emotions after winning both.
“Winning the national championship doesn’t even compare to the high school title honestly,” Richards said. “The high school title was more similar to a goal you’ve wanted your entire life, therefore the moment we won I had numerous feelings that ranged from relief to a gain of new confidence. We have wanted that state championship since we all stepped foot into our program freshman year. While nationals was a new, fresh feeling, we knew we could place pretty well but I know that if we didn’t win we’d be still just excited. We wouldn’t be upset or disappointed in ourselves if we didn’t win unlike state. Nationals gave us the perspective and confidence that reached a whole new level far beyond winning state. If I had to pick the best feeling it would be pretty difficult because both made me feel on top of the world with my team and I would do anything to feel that again with my team.”
Speaking of state, Harlem felt the state tournament and even Strikefest offered up better overall competition than the national tournament, a sign of the strength of bowling throughout the state.
“The competition at nationals doesn’t even compare, Richards said”.” I felt almost like Strikefest had harder competition. There was maybe 5-6 teams that showed us some good competition but bowling in our state has really prepared us for teams such as those 5-6 to compete against them.”
“Competition at state was better than at nationals,” Hagerman added. “Teams like Lockport really helped us prepare for this. The teams weren’t bad here, but they weren’t Lockport material.”
With six of the eight girls at nationals returning for next year, another state and national title doesn’t appear to be far fetched.
“I think we can do it again,” Hagerman said. “We have girls stepping up for the two leaving. We have to defend it.”
“I believe this tournament will help myself personally for next school season with six returning varsity players because I’ve gotten used to those girls,” Richards said. “These six girls returning next year have been through thick and thin and know what is needed to be successful on a team. I couldn’t be more excited for next year because I already know we’re going to accomplish even bigger things.”
O’Fallon and Collinsville also competed at the national tournament, with the Panthers finishing fifth and the Kahoks 10th.
For the boys, Harlem led the entire tournament, but fell in the championship to place second.
In the three games of qualifying, all five bowlers lit up the scoreboard as Jacob Nimtz shot a 734, Kyler Gerl had a 720, Dawson Jones shot a 686, Noah Mandujano shot a 651 and Collin Day had a 650.
“Finishing second is something to be proud of,” Nimtz said. “It was a fun experience. If I could do it again I would. It was a great time. We were winning all day until the last game. I think Illinois will continue to be represented well in the tournament.”
Like the girls, Nimtz felt the competition overall was tougher at the state meet.
“The competition at state was harder and there were more competitive teams overall,” he said. “At state you go up against a team like Hononegah and they weren’t at nationals. O’Fallon bowled well and was right behind us. I don’t want people to think I am putting other teams down, it is more like Illinois is just that good.”
The tournament, which was held in Smyrna, TN last weekend will be at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon next year. Between the same host house that hosts state and another year of the tournament, fans and bowlers hope the tournament goes more smoothly.
“It was ran a little different than what we are used to,” Nimtz said. “It was smoother at state. But the idea of a national tournament is a great thing. I hope it gets more help and I’m sure it will be great.”
“The tournament last forever,” Hagerman said. “The team tournament last till almost 2 a.m. and singles almost 3 a.m.”
O’Fallon finished the tournament in third place after being in second after qualifying, while Minooka was 15th.
For singles, Nimtz took second and Andrew Orf of O’Fallon was fourth, while Mary Orf of O’Fallon was second for the girls, while Richards was fourth and Hagerman sixth.