Willowbrook's activity bus bound for the girls state bowling finals in Rockford should be rollicking. These Warriors just want to have fun.
It helps them bowl better, too.
"Our last game at sectional was just really fun and we were all really upbeat, and that's when we shot our best, a 1,042," junior Holly Helsper said.
At the Glenbard East sectional on Feb. 10, Helsper trailed only Kenwood's Kaia Gray individually, knocking down 1,232 pins. Glenbard East sophomore Molly Galvin's third-place total of 1,225 topped Lisle senior Haley Kowalski by a single pin despite Kowalski's perfect 300 in the second of six games.
"It was really exciting to watch her shoot that 300 game," said Willowbrook second-year coach Kevin Allen.
Galvin and Kowalski advanced as individuals to the state finals starting Friday morning at Cherry Bowl. So Willowbrook's West Suburban Conference rivals Downers Grove South and York -- teams led at the sectional by junior Emily Spicuzza and senior Lauren Gould, respectively.
Topped by Willowbrook's 5,735 based on scoring by Helsper, sophomore Makayla Jones, seniors Elizabeth Soriano and Dana Sasenick and juniors Katherine Pettinger and Brianna Bryant, the Glenbard East sectional at Glendale Heights' Brunswick Zone produced the entirety of the DuPage County talent rolling into Rockford.
The Warriors, of course, are happy to be there.
"I always take pride in our girls enjoying themselves and having fun bowling," said Allen, who takes a Willowbrook team to the girls state finals for the first time since 2010.
"I mean, I want the girls to be successful and win," he said, "but it's a great thing when you have a team that comes together and just enjoys bowling together and having fun. As the season goes along we've seen that when we are enjoying each other and having fun our scores do go up."
They'll need to have a total blast at Rockford to hang with the heavies.
Jones' strong 221 average led all Metea Valley regional bowlers and the Warriors won the team title with a score of 5,705, which ranked seventh among all regional winners.
Willowbrook's sectional total ranked sixth out of six sectional winners, joining Hoffman Estates, Lincoln-Way West, Lockport, O'Fallon and defending state champion Machesney Park Harlem, which ran up a mammoth 6,497. Lockport placed second in state last year, O'Fallon fourth, Hoffman Estates fifth. (Typical trophy winner Waubonsie Valley did not make it out of regionals this season.)
"All the best teams are at state, so the competition is going to be tough but our girls are very confident," Allen said. "They're bowling the best they have all season so confidence is high and we truly believe we can compete with all those teams. We've just got to work with our shot making and make those spares and we'll be in good shape."
In bowling, like any sport, you can only worry about what you can control. And since Willowbrook already achieved its preseason goal of reaching the state finals, this is icing on the cake. A big, fun cake.
"It's really satisfying that we know we met our goal," Helsper said. "Now our next goal is to at least make (Friday's cut) to the next day. Pretty much we'll put on our blinders, worry about us and do the best that we can do."
There are super fans, and then there is Dave Key.
The 2000 Glenbard South graduate is a staple at Raiders football, basketball and baseball games and has watched softball, badminton, girls volleyball and boys and girls soccer beginning in 1996.
Key recently informed Glenbard South business teacher Brian Ricci, a former Raiders basketball coach who now assists at West Chicago, he was closing in on "another perfect year" attending boys basketball games. That makes it 21 straight years.
"I like it, it's something fun to do," Key said Saturday before the Raiders tipped off against IC Catholic Prep.
"I go to other teams as well, pretty much all around DuPage County," he said.
In 1998 Key tried out for Ricci's sophomore boys team. He didn't make the cut and became team manager. He was varsity manager the next two years, part of the 2000 Raiders group that went 27-3 and reached the Class AA Sweet Sixteen.
"He's been coming to games ever since. We get to places and he's there waiting for the bus to arrive," said Ricci, who also has seen Key boarding trains for Bears and White Sox games.
Key's highlights were the 2000 boys basketball team, Glenbard South's 15-14 football victory over Glenbard West in 2007, and the softball team's 2012 and 2013 Class 3A championships.
Key said he likes the competition and traditions found in high school sports. He's become a tradition himself.
Key counts on attending Raiders contests for the rest of his life: "Certainly."
On Tuesday the Illinois High School Association and the Caterpillar company announced the 2018 IHSA Academic All-State Team. Criteria for the 26-person team, 13 each boys and girls, was a minimum 3.50 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale after seven semesters, outstanding citizenship and participation in at least two IHSA activities each of the last two years.
Among 400 statewide nominees one DuPage County student was chosen for the top 26 -- Glenbard West multiple all-state track and cross country runner Lindsey Payne. The 2016 Class 3A 3,200-meter champion, a huge part of the Hilltoppers' 2017 track title, Payne has committed to Stanford.
Miles Christensen, who Downers Grove North proudly noted scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, made the Honorable Mention Team. (Wow, tough crowd.) Another track and cross country athlete, Christensen was the third runner -- an all-state 16th overall -- for the Trojans' Class 3A champion cross country team last fall.
Previously, the IHSA announced its coaches of the year based on 2016-17 achievements. Locals were plentiful -- Naperville Central's Dan Brown in boys tennis, Glenbard West's Carlos Fuentes in girls gymnastics and Kelly Haas in girls track, Benet's Michael Hand in girls tennis, Waubonsie Valley's Marty Miller in girls bowling, Hinsdale Central's Nick Latorre in girls golf and Jess Krueger in boys golf.
Those selections were sent to the National Federation of State High School Associations for consideration for section and national honors. On Feb. 8 the IHSA reported that Krueger was the NFHS Section 4 winner, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In 2016 Krueger's Red Devils won the Class 3A title by 25 strokes behind medalist and defending champion Brendan O'Reilly. That was Hinsdale Central's fifth straight state title -- and the Red Devils won it again last fall.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1