PERU — If you continue putting in the work, being ahead of schedule can lead to great things in the long term as well as great experiences in the here and now.
The Streator High School varsity girls bowling team which competed here Saturday — made up of four freshmen and one sophomore, far and away the youngest squad to qualify for the La Salle-Peru Sectional — placed 12th of the 12 teams at Illinois Valley Super Bowl with a six-game team score of 4,628. Far from being deterred, though, the young Bowlin' Lady Bulldogs and coaches Nancy Longnecker and Dan Pond were soaking up the experience and perhaps came out even more motivated to return and do better in the years ahead.
"It's a new experience," said freshman Hallie Ligori, whose 162 average over Saturday's six games led the Lady Bulldogs. "We were a little surprised (advancing out of last week's regional), but it's a good experience getting to be here and compete with the older kids, especially as a freshman against people who have bowled their whole lives or whose families own bowling alleys. Competing with them is really nice. It makes you want to push yourself harder."
Ligori marked a 970 series (191, 169 high games) for Streator, followed closely by fellow ninth-grader Felicity Kruger's 966 (186, 171 171) and veteran of the team sophomore Kaylee Sroka's 937 (174, 166).
"It was nice being here," said Kruger, "and for a team of freshmen with one sophomore, I think we did pretty well. I can't wait for next season. I'm going to be bowling all summer."
"To get out of regionals when no one expected it and come to sectionals as a team — the first time for them, second time for me — is a really great experience," Sroka said. "I think we can make it out of sectionals either next year or the year after that. We just have to practice, especially on our own time, and listen to the coaches."
The Bowlin' Lady Bulldogs' other freshman competitors Saturday weren't far behind. Madison Mertes rolled an 896 series (189, 180), while Gabrielle Pickens scored an 859 (183, 167 high games).
Lincoln-Way West won the sectional team title with a 6,016, while Yorkville's Katie Orisek won the individual title with a 1,415 capped off by a perfect 300 in the sixth and final game, eliciting a long and loud cheer from fans and competitors alike in the packed Super Bowl house.
"For our young team, it's really important getting this experience," Longnecker said, "and I was really impressed with the girls and how they performed last week just to get here. We tried to explain to them that when they're here, they'll be competing against much more experienced bowlers. But we have a bright future ahead of us is what I see if they stick together and work together.
"We'll see where we are next year. We might be taking that ride to state."