O'Fallon High School senior Tommy Frost was 5 years old when he first bowled with teammate Billy Goodman.
"It was at Scott (Air Force Base). I was five and Billy was a year younger. That's where it all began for us,'' Frost said. "We've bowled together for a long time. Youth leagues, clinics and now we've been on the same (high school) team for the last three years.
"We're friends and we hang out with each other. But we're also competitors. That's good because by competing against each other we also bring out the best in each other and make our team that much stronger.''
Regarded by many as one of the top 1-2 combinations in the state, Goodman and Frost helped their O'Fallon team win the Southwestern Conference title. They also are the main reasons the Panthers are expected to contend for the IHSA state bowling championship, when that tournament is held Jan. 25-26 at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon.
Goodman leads the Panthers in scoring with his 225 average and has a 777 series to his credit this season. Frost, who rolled a season-best 750 series to pace the Panthers' SWC-clinching win over Belleville East earlier in the week, is second on the team with a 218-per game mark.
"I think it's a matter of getting stronger and a lot of practice,'' Goodman said of his success. "I've lifted weights and so I don't get tired later in tournaments. Also, I've bowled a lot more in bigger tournaments and on different lane conditions and that's helped as well. I've also worked a lot with my coaches, Dennis Knepper and Mike Imes.
"It's all worked out well this year. We've had a great season and I think a lot of it has to do with how well we have gelled as a team. The team chemistry this season is much better than it was a year ago.''
Last season, O'Fallon held a 66-pin lead after the first six games of the state tournament. But the Panthers struggled on the tournament's second day on their home lanes at St. Clair Bowl and wound up finishing fourth, one spot shy of earning a team trophy.
"We just didn't make the proper adjustments when the lanes changed the second day of the state tournament,'' Goodman said. "I think everybody thinks being at St. Clair for the state finals is a big advantage and it's really not.
"The pattern is different than what we bowl on during the season and every team at state gets one practice session. The only advantage we have is that we get to go home and sleep in our own beds.''
Goodman placed 11th at the 2012 state tournament, averaging right at 220 for his 12 games. Frost finished one spot short of an individual medal, placing 16th with an average of 216.7.
Frost's average has skyrocketed this season. He credits hard work and a more relaxed attitude.
"I think at times in the past, I've put more pressure on myself than I needed too," Frost said. "I was trying to force myself to throw good shots instead of just letting it happen.
"With the help of my coaches, I'm just a lot more relaxed this season. I'm just having a great time bowling. If the time comes where there is pressure, I'll handle that too. But right now, bowling is fun for me.''
O'Fallon will bowl in the Cahokia Sectional on Saturday at Redbird Lanes. Belleville East and Collinsville are expected to provide the Panthers with their toughest competition. The top two teams in the sectional advance to state.
"It's always been my goal to be a state champion," Frost said, "and if we bowl like we can, we've got a good shot.
"Individually, I missed a medal last year by one place and that hurt. If I could be in the top five this year, that would be great. Anything higher, would be even better.''
O'Fallon High School has never won a team state championship. The Panthers boys cross country team has placed second in the Class 3A State Cross Country Meet the past two years. O'Fallon also placed second at the 2007 Class AA boys state basketball tournament.
"To be able to say we were the first team to win a state title in school history would be great," Goodman said. "There have been a lot of great athletes and teams who have come through here. Plus everyone seems to play basketball or football. I think it would be great if bowling was the first one.''