O’FALLON – The third time was the charm for the O’Fallon Panthers Girls Bowling team, as they made school history and won the IHSA State Bowling Tournament on Saturday at Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
Coming so close in the past two years makes it just that much sweeter that they would not only win this year, but also be the first team in OTHS history to win a state team championship.
Senior Lauren Tomaszewski averaged 212 over 12 rounds for the Lady Panthers. Her 683 and 670 on Saturday helped her to finish second overall in the tournament with 2,552 pins.
Juniors Mary Orf and Natalie Heltne also came in big, scoring 2,430 and 2,429 pins respectively. Senior Hayleigh Williams walked away from state scoring 2,398. Along with junior Grace Braswell, the team finished the tournament with 12,122 pins, only 98 more than the previous year’s champion, Machesney Park Harlem. The remaining teams in the top five consisted of Minooka, Joliet West, and Lockport.
“This was an amazing experience coaching these girls. I was so proud to be their coach and was so impressed with the hard work they put into this. The success they found in this will carry over into the success they will find in their lives, as long as they bring the same principles of hard work into everything they do,” said Head Coach Garrett Spencer. “Its a great day to be a Panther.”
The team celebrated the historic victory on Monday, starting with a ride around town on top of an O’Fallon Fire truck and escorted by the O’Fallon Police Department. From there, the team was honored at a reception at the Panther Dome.
“This weekend, history was made at O’Fallon Township High School. We have our first ever state championship team in our girls bowlers,” Superintendent Darcy Benway began the celebratory reception by saying.
Principal Rich Bickel said the team exemplified what the athletic program at OTHS is about.
“Three of the pillars of our athletic program at OTHS are ‘Lead Boldly’, ‘Compete Fiercely’, and ‘Love Strong’. Those principles are embodied by this squad. Talk about competing fiercely, that state tournament is set up to be grueling. It’s set up as a 12 round, over two day, endurance test of mental strength for these girls. One of the things that struck me was how fiercely they competed but did so with total class,” Principal Rich Bickel said.
“One of the things that gave me total chills was in the eleventh round of this twelve round bout was when they were neck and neck with the defending state champions, and then they dropped that hammer on that team!” Bickel continued.
The girls program first began at OTHS 23-years ago. At the start, Bickel served as the coach for what was a co-ed bowling team.
Athletic Director Todd Moeller said the Lady Panthers are a fantastic example for the whole community of how to deal with adversity.
“Last year the girls went to state. We had such high expectations and things just didn’t work out the way you planned. But you made a resolution in your minds and you came back and you did it! Let that lesson live in you for the rest of your lives. Failure doesn’t mean failure forever. It’s only failure for the moment. So great job for everyone here in O’Fallon serving as a model of what failure can mean for us,” Athletic Director Todd Moeller said to the team.
Moeller compared the team to Roger Banister, who is known for being the first man to run a four-minute mile.
“After he ran the four-minute mile, he broke the belief barrier for everyone behind him. That’s exactly what you’ve done at OTHS. Because now we’re going to have more [championships]. We’re going to have more in other sports because you have broken the belief barrier. It not only can happen here, it has happened here and I’m so proud of all of you,” Moeller said.
A banner will soon be designed and hung in the Panther Dome.