FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — The O'Fallon Panthers will enter the boys state bowling tournament today with plenty to prove.
The odds-on favorite a year ago, the Panthers saw their dream of becoming the first state team champions in school history end with a subpar 10th game amidst an impressive performance by Lockport senior Shane Matejcek, whose effort earned him the individual title and all but locked up the team honors for the Porters.
"We lost the state championship by 74 pins and he (Matejcek) averaged 243 for his 12 games. If he averages 233 we win the title,'' O'Fallon coach Mike Imes said. "Second place is a great accomplishment, but I think the boys walked out that day feeling they let it slip away.
"This season, we've been on a mission. The boys have been thinking about these next two days for over a year. In all honesty, I like our chances if we bowl like have all year."
One of five Southwestern Conference teams in the 24-team field, along with Belleville East, Belleville West, Alton and Collinsville, the Panthers will look to complete their mission beginning Friday at St. Clair Bowl.
O'Fallon is led by a senior-ladden group which includes two-time all-state bowler Billy Goodman, as well as Daman McIntire, Mikaid Stewart and Josh Brown. Junior Justin Peacock and freshman Andrew Orf round out the Panthers' top six.
Tickets will be on sale at the gate and are priced at $10 per day. The doors open at 8:45 a.m. today and Saturday, with competition set to begin at 9:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. both days.
In all 24 teams and 30 individuals will compete in today's first two rounds. Following the completion of play today, the field will be trimmed to the top 12 teams and 30 individuals not on those teams who will bowl in rounds three and four Saturday.
While most of the local attention will be on the five Southwestern Conference teams in the tournament, several other perennial powers also are in the field.
Lockport headlines that list, while former state team champs (Rockford) Guilford, Lake Park and (Tinley Park) Andrew also are in the field.
Among other teams to watch are (Machesney Park) Harlem, Rockton Hononegah and Minooka.
Local individuals competing are Spencer Jerome and Cameron Touchette, both of Columbia, and Zack Miller of Mascoutah.
"We've bowled against many of the top teams in the state and I think you always have to consider the teams like Guilford, Harlem, Minooka, Andrew and Lake Park among the favorites,'' Imes said. "What it comes down to is which teams gets hot for two days and 12 games. It's wide open.''
While O'Fallon figures to be in that group, East and possibly Alton also could be in the hunt for a top five finish come late Saturday afternoon.
Alton is led by Mascoutah Sectional individual champion Charles Orman, while East has perhaps one of the state's best in senior Thomas Peters to lead its charge.
Seniors Sean Hoyt, Kyle Wells and Tyler Kuykendall along with sophomore Justin Hess have also been solid for East this season. The Lancers finished ninth at the 2013 state finals.
"I think we've got a chance to be in the top five,'' East coach Marcus Barriger said. "The goal is for each of our bowlers to do what they do and not try do things they can't."
West will be led by seniors Ethan Seaman and Jared Obermeyer, junior Nathan Bovinette and sophomore Brandon Gregory. Collinsville's hopes will rest on the shoulders of juniors Eddie Fiudo, Branden Boehnke and freshman Clayton Hartman.