BY ALEX GRUBERMAN WEEKLY REPORTER
ROCKFORD – After finishing in second place at regionals and a second place finish at sectionals, the Lady Panthers were looking to take their hot streak of bowling up to Rockford this past weekend to compete at state. However, just like regionals and sectionals, it wasn’t going to be an easy task for the Lady Panthers as opponents were ready to challenge them. Teams like Salem and Collinsville know how to step up their games when facing O’Fallon, and teams like Lockport, Rockford, Herrin, and Harlem were favored to win it all. Could the Panthers escape Rockford with a state title?
The Lady Panthers were ready to go Friday and after the scores they put up in game one, you could tell they wanted a state title badly. Freshmen Natalie Heltne shot 240, sophomore Maddi Thornton shot 253, freshmen Mary Orf shot 228, sophomore Hayleigh Williams shot 200 on the nose, and sophomore Lauren Tomaszewski finished with a 213 to give the Lady Panthers a 1,134 series to start the day.
That hot streak continued into game two as the Lady Panthers finished with a 1,054 series. Maddi Thornton had a nice 238 game and Natalie Heltne finished with 225 that game.
As the Lady Panthers shifted lanes once again, you could tell the oil pattern was starting to dry up. The Lady Panthers finished with 968 series to head into break with three nice series. Mary Orf shot a 236 game and Lauren Tomaszewski wrapped up the third game with a 215. After three games, the Lady Panthers were right there at the top of the standings, and they were ready to finish the day strong.
After finishing lunch, the Lady Panthers were focused. Natalie Heltne bowled a 247 game and Maddi Thornton backed her up with a 222 game. The Panthers seemed to struggle in the fourth game as their series dropped from the 900s to 888. Hayleigh Williams shot 200 on the nose in that game. In the final game of the day, the Lady Panthers must have liked the lanes better than the previous game because they finished the day with a 923 series. Mary Orf had a 212 game and Natalie Heltne finished with a 195. After the remaining games were finished and the numbers calculated, the Lady Panthers found themselves sitting in third place after the first day of bowling and only 369 pins behind first place.
After a good night’s rest, the Lady Panthers were ready to overcome whatever came their way. In game one, Natalie Heltne and Mary Orf both shot over 200. The Lady Panthers then moved on to game two where they shot a nice 1,035 series, with Natalie Heltne bowling a 254, Mary Orf adding a 236 game, and Maddi Thornton with a 187 game. Game three wasn’t the Lady Panthers best bowling, but they squeezed out a 990 series with Mary Orf bowling 232 game and Hayleigh Williams adding a 213 game. The Lady Panthers found themselves in the middle of the pack still heading into break.
The next three games were important in deciding who walks out with the state title. The Lady Panthers returned to the lanes after break, but they couldn’t seem to find their stride as they shot an 883 series. Coach Spencer decided it was time to make some changes, so sophomore Hanna Kester and freshmen Grace Braswell got some playing time. The Lady Panthers scores dropped more in the fifth game as they only recorded an 853 series. Coach Spencer decided to go back to the original starting five for the last game. In the end the Lady Panthers shot an 899 series with Natalie Heltne having a nice 233 game to finish the day.
In the end, Harlem took home the state title with Lockport finishing 38 pins behind them. Aurora High School finished in third place and rounding out the top four positions was the Lady Panthers.