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Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
Pictured is Alton’s girls’ bowling team after they qualified for the Johnston City Sectional by finishing second at the Collinsville Regional. In front from left to right are: Alex Bergin, Addison Beys, and Carley Heistand; in back, from left to right are: Claire Gorman, Ashley Heistand, Chloe Greenberg, Eryka Graham, and Elizabeth Hanke.
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Although the Alton High girls’ bowling team came up short in advancing to this weekend’s IHSA finals, the Redbirds achieved plenty this season.
The highlight was a bright one. The Birds captured their first outright Southwestern Conference championship in 15 years.
Alton went 10-2 in the SWC to finish one game ahead of Collinsville and O’Fallon. It’s the Redbirds’ lone conference championship — in any sport — thus far this school year. They finished 12-2 overall during the regular season.
“Winning the conference was huge. The last time we won it was my first year of coaching at Alton,” said coach Jeff Woszczynski, referring to 2000-01 season. “This team was most definitely one of the better ones we have had.”
He also pointed to Belleville East and Belleville West fashioning solid teams, making the SWC a rugged lane to travel.
“Each one of the top five teams had a 200 bowler,” Woszczynski said.
The Redbirds also finished second to host Collinsville in the regional at Camelot Lanes. Then they took 7th in the 12-team Johnston City Sectional at Southern Illinois Bowl in Carterville. The Birds finished 132 pins behind Herrin for the fourth and final state spot at The Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
“We had one bad game as a team all season and it came in the final one of the sectional,” Woszczynski said. “We were 9 pins out of fourth place until the final game.
“It was a little tough to take because we were so close.”
Salem, Collinsville and O’Fallon join Herrin in the two-day state finals. First-round state competition starts Friday and concludes Saturday.
Junior Ashley Heistand will carry the Redbirds’ banner and that’s an encouraging sign. Heistand spun a 1,263 sectional series and has an opportunity to follow it up with a strong state showing.
“It feels pretty good going to state, but I would feel better if the entire team was going,” Heistand said. “I was with the team two years ago when we went to state and then last year, I went with Eryka to give her support.”
Thus, Heistand is making the Rockford trip for the third time.
“Individually, making it to state is my biggest thrill of the season,” Heistand said.
Graham, the two-time AdVantage News Girls’ Bowler of the Year, was the Redbirds’ lone state qualifier last year. This season, Graham sported a 225 average.
Woszczynski said, “Ashley has bowled great all season. We’ve had an outstanding 1-2 punch with her and Eryka Graham, and this team has had more depth than past teams.”
Graham, the regional champion, missed out on getting through the sectional and qualifying for state.
“I thought that Eryka bowled great in the sectional, but she couldn’t score well enough. She couldn’t get those strikes,” Woszczynski said.
Heistand, fourth in the regional, finished first in the Abe Lincoln Tournament earlier this season. She owns a 196 average.
“Ashley has played softball, so she’s an athlete and understands what it takes to be successful,” Woszczynski said. “She’s sort of like our engine because she gets everybody going.
“And she’s more of a power bowler than Eryka. They have contrasting styles, but they work well together.”
Now, it’s Heistand’s time to work singularly at state.
“I just plan to do what I can and represent the team the best I can,” she said. “I want to get to the second day of competition.”
Woszczynski is confident she will continue to excel.
He said, “Ashley is good enough where she can advance to the second day. She will be in a good frame of mind and she will give it her best shot.”
Once state is finished, Heistand can reboot for next season. Graham and Chloe Greenberg are the seniors on the successful squad.
Elizabeth Hanke and Claire Gorman are juniors, while Addison Beys and left-hander Carley Heistand — Ashley’s sister — are sophomores. Alex Bergin is a freshman.
“I think it’s the most depth we have had on a girls’ team,” said Woszczynski, also the boys’ coach. “We had that good punch at the top, but we also had a lot of other girls jump in there and do some good things. We just didn’t rely on Eryka and Ashley.”
He added, “What I really liked about this team is the way everybody worked together. You can have conflicts on a team, but we never had that because these girls competed as a team.”
Heistand served as a big part of that bonding.
“Our team was very supportive of each other and we wanted to help each other,” she said. “The highlight of the season was winning the conference championship. That was very big for us.”
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