The OTHS girls bowling team had — by any measure — a great season last year.
The Panthers finished the season with a 10-2 record and were crowned Southwestern Conference champions. They also won the Viking Invitation at The Cherry Bowl in Rockford, the same location where the IHSA state tournament is held.
But while that victory was sweet, it was the Panthers’ return trip to The Cherry Bowl for the state finals that left a sour taste in their mouths.
“We really kind of had third place wrapped up, but then dropped down to fourth,” said OTHS coach Garrett Spencer, who will be entering his 12th season leading the Panthers.
But the hiccup at state did not seem to affect the girls much.
In June, the team placed fifth at U.S. High School Bowling National Championship in Smyrna, Tennessee, near Nashville. In addition to the team’s success at the tournament, Mary Orf, one top returning players for OTHS this season, finished second as an individual.
Spencer said is excited to see how much his team has developed over the summer.
“I have the same six, and the nice thing is, all six bowlers have worked a lot on their games over the summer, and I think they will be even better this year,” he said.
The Panthers, who were young last year, will be young again. The team lost no one to graduation and will not have any seniors again this year.
“We were all freshmen and sophomores, and the entire team is returning,” Spencer said.
All six of top returning Panthers have sport high averages.
“I don’t have any one superstar,” Spencer said.
Not that the label doesn’t fit any of them. It’s just that — as a team — they are so balanced.
“You take anyone of my girls and put them on some other team, and they could be a superstar,” Spencer said.
Orf, who carried a 207 average last year, will be one three sophomores in the team’s top six. Grace Braswell and Natalie Heltne, who had averages of 157 and 209 last year, respectively, are the other sophomores.
The three juniors in the team’s top six will be Hayleigh Williams (198 average), Madison Thornton (179), and Lauren Tomaszewski (195).
Heltne and Orf were both first team all-conference selections last year. Williams and Tomaszewski were named to the conference second team, and Thornton completed the list of O’Fallon girls with a spot on the SWC third team. Heltne, Orf were Williams and Tomaszewski also named to the All-Area team last season.
The Panthers roll into competition Saturday, Nov. 25 at the Triad Invitational at Camelot Bowl in Collinsville.
“We have a busy, busy schedule,” Spencer said. “We bowling more than any other team, I think.”
The schedule also includes the Abe Lincoln Tournament in Springfield on Dec. 2, Strike Fest in Plainfield on Dec. 9, and a return to the Viking Invitational in Rockford on Jan. 20.
“They are used to these big tournaments and the pressure being put on them,” Spencer said of his team.
That experience is invaluable when it comes to post season, especially if the Panthers want to improve upon last year, Spencer said.
“When you get to state and there’s another team right on your tail, there’s a little pressure to bowl well,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t make it. So this year, hopefully, we do better.”