Talent, consistency and tradition have become the hallmarks of the O’Fallon Township High School boys’ bowling team. A third place finish in the Illinois High School Association state finals last year marked the fifth consecutive season that the Panther bowlers have ended their campaign among the top five teams in the state.
The only drawback to the exceptional development of the OTHS program has been an elusive state championship trophy, but O’Fallon High coach Mike Imes, who begins his 14th season as boys’ coach and 20th season overall with the OTHS program, believes this year’s squad has the right stuff to finally negotiate the final hurdle.
“We have six kids returning from last year’s third place team,” Imes said. “We also have a very good group of younger bowlers who give us even more depth. I can really see us contending for the state title again this year. In fact, we might be as strong as we have ever been one through 10.”
The pronouncement by Imes cannot be good news for rivals in the Southwestern Conference and the metro-east at large. The successes of the past have created a culture among those who compete on the lanes for the Panthers, according to Imes.
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“Our players know coming into each season that they have a tradition to uphold,” Imes explained. “Incoming players know what they have to do in order to make the team. Our developmental program headed by Sherri Tadlock at the junior high level has just been outstanding. At other schools, kids just don’t come out in the numbers that we have here in O’Fallon. They want to be part of the success and have not disappointed us. They come out every night ready to improve their game and compete at the highest level. We expect that kind of performance again this year.”
In order to realize their lofty goals, the Panthers will be depending on returning bowlers who have already established their credentials as dangerous lane opponents. Heading that list is senior Andrew Orf, who begins his fourth year as a varsity starter. Orf finished in third place in the individual competition at the state tournament last year, bowling a 238 average and ending up just 36 pins behind the state champion.
The Panthers will not be a one-trick pony, however. Orf will be aided by two other seniors — Michael Toohey and Josh Bradshaw. Toohey was a solid contributor as a junior and will be competing in his third year as a varsity starter. Last winter, Toohey was nearly as impressive as Orf down the stretch, finishing 11th in the state finals with a 229 average. Bradshaw will provide an additional dangerous weapon at the top of O’Fallon’s line-up. Imes also will call on juniors Mark Hoerner and Eli Rosenberg to make significant contributions to the 2016-17 squad.
“Mark (Hoerner) really came on strong at the end of last year,” Imes said. “And Rosenberg looked very good in our pre-season tryouts last week. These two will give us added depth and can put up big numbers at any time. Our sixth through 10th players are all underclassmen and are pretty evenly matched.”
The OTHS boys have already drawn some attention statewide. In pre-season polls, the Panthers are ranked fourth in the state behind Rockton Hononegah, Harlem and Stevenson. After this past weekend’s Kahok Invitational, the OTHS boys will open regular season play on Nov. 17 against Belleville East and Nov. 22 versus Collinsville. Imes expects his charges to fare well in conference play.
“Quite a few Southwestern Conference schools lost key members of their teams,” Imes said. “Belleville East will be very young, and Collinsville will be without their top player from last year who transferred. Our depth and experience make us a favorite going into league play. Our biggest tests prior to post-season will be in the major tournaments. We travel north to compete in the Boylan Invitational and bowl in the Lincoln tournament in Taylorville along with our girls’ team. On Dec. 30, we host the OTHS Team Challenge, which is really a prequel to the state tournament. After bowling in these major events, we should have a pretty good read as to what our chances are in state tournament play.”
The Panthers kicked off the 2016-17 season this past weekend in the Kahok Invitational. Justifying Imes confidence in their ability, the OTHS crew blasted their way to the team championship — their fifth consecutive Kahok Invitational crown.
The O’Fallon bowlers outscored a field of 31 teams with senior Andrew Orf setting the pace. Orf rolled to the individual title, finishing with a total of 1433 pins. Eli Rosenberg (17th), Josh Bradshaw (19th) and Matthew Toohey (24th) rounded out the Panthers’ top four scorers. Triad High School ended the day 127 pins off O’Fallon’s winning 6354 total pins. Belleville East took third.