Photo by Bill Roseberry
The Alton boys’ and girls’ bowlers pose with their second-place trophy at the Alton Invitational at Airport Bowl in Bethalto. The Redbirds were second in the grand standings, combining the boys’ and girls’ scores together.
What’s arguably the best sports program at Alton High School over the last 15 years?
Easy — it’s the bowling program.
The boys’ side has qualified for state eight out of the last 12 years, secured five top 10 finishes over that span, won five sectional titles and had six individuals make the top 10.
Alton’s girls’ have qualified for state four times in the past 14 years, nabbed two top 10 finishes in that time and won a pair of sectional crowns. The Redbirds also won a regional a year ago, the first year the IHSA included a bowling regional.
Whitney Cox won an individual state title for AHS during the 2000-01 season, which has also earned her a spot in the Alton Athletics Hall of Fame already.
Both the boys and girls qualified for state in ‘13-14 with the boys finishing seventh and the girls taking 19th. Lucas Pejakovich was ninth individually at state a year ago. He’s back this year, as is junior Eryka Graham to lead the girls’ squad again.
All of those variables lead to high hopes for Alton once again, but that’s nothing new to the Redbirds, according to head coach Jeff Woszczynski. The Redbirds expect excellence.
“I’ve been here for 15 years now and the first few years were kind of tough,” Woszczynski said. “But with Bowl Haven, Bill (Netzhammer) helps take care of us. He accommodates us any way he can as far as practices and whatnot, and not only that I’ve got great people like Dave (Meyer) and Chuck (Tague), who are official coaches for us. One person can’t do it all, by any means. It takes these guys, it takes all the games Bill lets us put in over at Bowl Haven, and it takes dedication from the kids. We always make ourselves available, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest differences at Alton. We’re always there and the kids are willing to learn.”
Graham said the coaches can be gruff at times, but she doesn’t mind because she takes bowling seriously and yearns to be successful at the sport she loves.
“It’s really great because the coaches work so hard with each of us individually and they know we can do it,” she said. “They have so much faith in us and it’s just really nice. You go in and they can be real firm, but they can also be really gentle.
“I think Alton takes bowling really seriously and they put a lot of time into it. It’s OK to sometimes have fun with bowling, but for me bowling is something I want to do for the rest of my life and I want it to be taken serious.”
Woszczynski, Meyer and Netzhammer have a ton of experience on the lanes under their belts. That helps with building and sustaining the program, too.
“The experience that we have, I don’t know how many 300 rings we have between us — of course Bill’s got 80 percent of them I think, but that’s OK. We’ve all got at least several,” Woszczynski said. “It takes a lot, but it’s enjoyable. If it wasn’t enjoyable, I wouldn’t be doing it this long.”
Graham said having coaches with that experience and success is nice to have as a crutch to lean on.
“I go to them a lot,” Graham said. “And sometimes they will be like, ‘What are you seeing?’ They take your opinions and thoughts into consideration.”
Part of building a program is continuing success and that’s the focus for the ‘14-15 season. The Redbirds were second overall in the grand standings for the boys and girls combined at the Alton Invite at Airport Bowl in Bethalto on Dec. 23, while the girls were second in their division.
Meyer, who works closely with the girls, thinks there are great possibilities for them moving forward this season.
“They are clicking and doing real good,” Meyer said. “We had a little talk and had some team time for the girls recently and they’re coming together, they’re growing together. Hopefully we can keep doing it and down the road get ready for regionals. They just need to keep working hard. They’ve got a really good shot to finish the second day in the top 10 (at state) and maybe even higher. We’ve got some girls, if they stay together, can finish in the top 10, too. If Eryka keeps doing what she’s doing, she can finish in the top 10.”
The boys faltered down the stretch at the Alton Invite, but Woszczynski admitted the potential is there, especially with Pejakovich and a top 10 state finish under his belt already.
In a Dec. 16 match with Granite City the boys gathered 3,388 pins, good for 17th best ever in the IHSA, and Pejakovich posted a 793, the 11th best series ever individually in IHSA history.
“We graduated 10 guys from last year and Lucas is the only one back, but the potential is there,” Woszczynski said. “It’s just right now trying to put it together.”