LOVES PARK, Ill. -- The IHSA changed its format in boys bowling this year for teams trying to reach the state tournament at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon next weekend.
They've added a regional round, which was held last weekend, and combined the sectionals into a total of four for the entire state.
This much hasn't changed: Lake Park and Vernon Hills are once again in the thick of the postseason picture. The Lancers and Cougars are two of the six teams that qualified from Saturday's Rockford Boylan sectional.
Brandon Biondo of Jacobs was the top individual bowler and Jason Soto of Geneva also advanced.
Sycamore won the sectional with a 6-game total of 6,578 pins. Machesney Park Harlem was the team runner-up (6,545), with Vernon Hills in third (6,435), Rockton Hononegah fourth (6,416), Lake Park fifth (6,397) and Rockford Guilford sixth (6,302) in the 16-team field that competed at Park Lanes.
Vernon Hills advanced to the state tournament for the ninth straight year.
"This format is a little bit tougher, because there are so many quality teams here," Vernon Hills coach Ron Long said. "We hung in there, got off to a real good start and didn't lose our momentum. Our boys this week all came out ready for practice -- we really didn't know who was going to start. This group is progressing, getting better -- and we're going to keep getting better. Our goal is to win state"
The Cougars started the day with an 1,127, followed with 1,046 and a 1,039 for a 3,212 in the first three games. They finished up with 1,038, 1,145 and 1,040 for a 3,223 afternoon set.
Vernon Hills was led by Chris Winter. He rolled a 1,395, good for third place overall after starting his day with a 279 game.
"It was an exciting day and we pulled together as a team," said Winter, a sophomore. "We stuck together as a family. I learned from the seniors last year to keep your confidence up. Once it goes down, then that's your downfall. If you keep it up at a steady level, you can survive these long tournaments."
Other contriubtor for the Cougars were Noah Melcer (1,313), Eric Doerhoefer (1,299), Jeremy Gonzalez (1,218), Andrew Solens (1,027, five games) and Justin Becker (183, one game).
Lake Park rallied over its final three games by throwing 1,115, 1,108 and 1,137 for a 3,360 series. That brought the Lancers back from 11th place after the morning set of 3,037.
Lake Park will compete at state for the 11th time in the last 12 years.
"I told the kids, if you're not ready to bowl, we might as well pack our stuff up and go home," said Lake Park coach Greg Edwards of his message at the break. "You worked hard all year for this one tournament. Those bowling balls do react like they have feelings and emotions. They are going to react the way you put energy into it.
"They just came out like beasts in the second half. They persevered and never gave up like most teams would have."
Alec Tau led Lake Park with 1,317, including a high game of 256. Zach Niemann shot 1,305 and the Lancers got support from Corben Sadowski (1,302), Andrew Tau (1,271) and Joe Kauther (1,202).
Biondo is the first Jacobs boys bowler to reach state. He shot a 784 series for the first three games. He rolled 227, 268 and 269 and at one point had 20 consecutive strikes. He finished with games of 245, 218 and 215 for a 678.
"It's my first time out here," said Biondo, a junior. "I'm just doing what I can for my school. I get the feeling of having my school on my shoulders, since I'm the only one. A lot of kids at school know that I'm a good bowler. All week long they've been saying good luck.
"I just breathe and go through the emotions. I was also drinking a lot of water. I just wanted to focus on myself, and not get overconfident."
Geneva's Soto delivered a 6-game total 1,352. He had five of his six games over 200, with a high game of 254.
The other individuals that advanced were Dixon's Ryan Dixon (1,363), Freeport's Christopher Wiley (1,361), Mendota's Cody Phalen (1,335), Dixon's Joel Spangler (1,329) and Belvidere's Kyle Pattalio.
Ryan Powell of Barrington (1,327) and Jack Baumruk of Libertyville advanced as at-large qualifiers.
Baumruk's score tied Cahokia's Kyle Brewer at 1,291 but Baumruk advanced on tiebreaker criterion.