Eric Swanson has been a big part of the Vernon Hills boys bowling team for four years. Each year, his leadership has helped carry the Cougars downstate.
Never before had he earned an individual sectional victory -- but that wait is over. Swanson rolled 1,370 over six games Saturday for the winning effort at Brunswick Zone Hawthorn in Vernon Hills.
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In previous attempts, Swanson was fourth (freshman year), third (as a sophomore) and second last year.
"Freshman year started out pretty well, in first place after a couple of games," Swanson said. "But I didn't do well by the last game. Over the last two years I did well, but there were some better bowlers than me. Finally, this year, I finally got it."
And once again, Swanson will have plenty of company competing downstate. His teammate Justin Onozato finished second, 37 pins behind at 1,333, and threw high games of 259 and 257.
Vernon Hills will be making its eighth straight state trip at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon. The two-day tournament starts Friday.
The Cougars finished second Saturday, 69 pins behind sectional champion Glenbrook North (6,026).
Swanson started out with a 173 game in his opening game. After a ball change, he went on to roll five games over 200, including a 279. He averaged 240 over the last five.
"I was trying to stay focused and helping my team get pumped up," Swanson said. "If I get pumped up then I can get focused to do well. And I want to do well for them."
Vernon Hills found itself trailing Lake Zurich and Glenbrook North after the morning set and was 205 pins away from the second qualifying spot with a three-game total of 2,845. The Cougars rolled the highest game of the day with a 1,087, following up with a 1,012 and a 1,013 for an afternoon set of 3,112.
"Taking this team down there with the limited experience that we have was one of the best accomplishments that I've seen since being the coach," Vernon Hills coach Ron Long said. "I told the kids at lunch, we've come back from 200 pins down once before in a three-game series. It's possible guys, just reel them in, like fishing.
"Rolling that game (1,087) took us into the next game, and we fed off it. We didn't lose any momentum going into the sixth game."
Other scores for the Cougars were Chris Winters (1,146), Zach Furlett (949, 5 games), Eric Doerhoefer (502, 3 games), Justin Becker (348, 2 games) and Noah Melcer (309, 2 games).
Lake Zurich led after the first 3 games with a 3,099 series after games of 1,057, 1,032 and 1,010. But the Bears dropped off after that, finishing with 2,772 over the last 3 games. The Bears ended up in third place with 5,871.
"Some of it was the boys not making the shots and some of the schools bowling really well this afternoon," Lake Zurich coach Peter Kupfer said. "Those things together put us where we were.
"It was tough, because we won the conference (Northern Illinois Boys Bowling conference), did well in tournaments and we were hoping to finish off the year by going down to state again."
Lake Zurich's Mike Schmitt tossed 1,259 over the six games has a shot of an at-large berth; he's 12 pins behind the last automatic qualifier. Domenic Brugioni (1,233) of Grant is 38 pins back of the last automatic qualifier. At-large qualifiers are based on results from all 12 sectionals in the state.
Anthony Tomatz of Deerfield (1,278) and New Trier's Andrew Textor (1,271) were the automatic individual qualifiers from the sectional.