It took overcoming a couple troublesome lanes, but the United Township and Rock Island girls bowling teams both qualified for state on Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers jumped the Rocks in the final game as the sectional hosts finished third with a 5,400 total, just ahead of Rocky (5,388).
State bowling powers Joliet West (5,718) and Minooka (5,649) finished first and second at Highland Park Bowl, with Angel Heck of Morris placing first individually with a 1,303 six-game series.
This is the first year since 2003 that both UT and Rocky qualified for state bowling as teams.
The Panthers were elated to learn they would qualify after having no idea where they stood until the final few frames on Saturday. This is the sixth year in a row UT has had at least one state bowler, and the first year since 2017 it advanced as a team.
UT senior Ashlyn Burkeybile led all local bowlers with an 1,163, good for 13th place. But she and the team had blinders on as far as scores went, until the final game.
“During the eighth frame, someone said that we could make it,” said Burkeybile. “I just knew I had to do the best I could and didn’t want the scores to get into my head. I just focused on me and the team, and we went from there.”
The ability to stay present and not get inside their heads worked out for UT, which in fifth, 71 pins behind Morris, after three games. The Panthers came out after the break with their best game of the day, a 958 to leap Morris, which rolled a 746.
UT wasn’t done maneuvering, using an 883 final game to leap Rocky, which rolled a 786, one of its worst games of the year.
“That was very exciting,” Burkeybile said. “I thought we were going to get fourth, but we got third.”
Some troublesome lanes made for lower scores on Saturday, but that was the case across the board with teams rotating lanes all day. There were just four games over 1,000 all day among the 12 teams.
“Most of the lanes it was OK, but our fifth game was kind of a struggle,” Burkeybile said. “The lanes were totally different than the rest of the day. But we came through.”
After finishing fifth at the sectional the past two years, Rocky finally got over the hump to qualify as a team for the first year since 2010.
Rocky finished 92 pins ahead of Morris, but there was some tense energy down the stretch for the Rocks and their fans. Joliet Central also finished just 104 pins back.
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“It was very nerve-wracking, but I knew our team could do it,” said RI sophomore Carli Gordon, who placed 18th to lead the team with a 1,134. “I’m so happy for the team and everyone on it. I’m so happy that we finally got to do it. Last year we came so close … and this year we were able to do it.”
The Rocks were 235 pins short last year and 53 the year before from advancing to state as a team.
Rock Island senior Heather Motley, who qualified for state for the first time, said this was a long time coming. She was just one pin short of qualifying her freshman year after a sectional roll-off decided her fate.
“We did not bowl well at all, but it was enough,” said Motley. “It feels great. Definitely after finishing fifth, this feels nice.”
RI junior Sarah Stevanovic (1,097) was 24th, followed by seniors Kelsey Freeman (1,068), Heather Motley (1,066), and Bailey Tripilas (1,023).
Ironically, RI’s sectional total was nearly 200 pins lower than it was the last two years. Before Saturday, Motley’s, sister, Lynzee Quade was Rocky’s last state qualifier in 2017.
RI coach Jim Braet said his girls are savvy about looking at the score sheet and they found a way to make the cut.
“I knew UT was close,” Braet said. “The main thing is to survive and go on. That was our main goal.”
UT sophomore Kiera Henderson (1,091) placed 26th. Classmate Regina Harmening followed her Western Big 6 Conference and regional titles with a 1,084, good for 28th. senior Nan Li (1,025) and junior Alyssa Rasso (1,037) finished the UT scoring.
“Ashlyn and Reggie (Harmening) have been pretty solid, but today they both struggled a little bit, so everybody else was able to pick up their game and help us out,” UT coach Sharon Krack said.
Krack’s strategy of not providing the team’s scores helped the girls focus on bowling their best and adapting to their current lanes. UT also bowled with Morris in the final game.
“I was just trying to keep my girls and their heads on our game,” Krack said, “and not pay attention to anybody else.”
Burkeybile, who qualified for state with the team her freshman year and individually last year, said it was exciting to go as a group her senior year. Rocky also qualifying provides an added bonus.
“It’s less stress,” she said of not being a lone qualifier. “As an individual, you don't really have anybody to comfort you or be with you. But as a team, you can just pump each other up and cheer them on.”
The fifth and final individual bowler to make the state cut rolled a 1,219.
Galesburg junior Casey Folger placed second behind Heck with a 1,245 to advance to state. Geneseo sophomore Madison Holevoet rolled a 1,090 to place 27th and junior Jenah Hart bowled 996. Moline junior Regyn Buffington (1,074) led the four Maroons in 30th place, followed by Morgan Jasper (1,000), Nivena McCoy (976), and Kallyn Hann (929). Kewanee freshman Mya Mirocha rolled a 945. Sterling senior Zoey Paone (1,155) placed 15th.
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