Pieces come together for state-champion St. Charles East bowlers
It was like playing Tetris with strikes, St. Charles East senior Tyler Johnson said, describing the Saints bowling team stacking up X after X on the view screen at state.
Rallying from fourth place after Day 1 and from sixth place after the first round on Day 2, the Saints had to get hot to win the boys state bowling title Feb. 8. St. Charles East finished third in 2015, fourth a year ago.
"The pieces just really came together," Johnson said. "We knew we had a special team, and to actually be able to pull off that victory was just a great feeling, especially with the way it happened."
Down 310 pins after Friday the Saints shot out of the gate with a score of 1,198 in Saturday's first game, best among the 12 teams still standing. All five bowlers eclipsed 200 led by senior Nick Cutrara at 288.
Fortunes waned the next two games, and coach Steve Dessauer's squad found itself in sixth place overall, with one round of three games left. On the bus during lunch break, "we were not in good spirits," Johnson said.
"Going into that fourth round I guess the goal might just be podium," Johnson said. "That first place was maybe a far reach, but then we put up a 1,070 in fourth round, then that fifth round, that magical round ..."
Edward Burgos and brother Edgar -- the 2019 individual champion -- Cutrara, and brothers Tyler and Connor Johnson each bowled no less than 224 in that fifth game -- a combined score of 1,279 that toppled Stevenson's 1,263 from 2016 for a state record.
Edward Burgos bowled 11 straight strikes before settling for an 8 and a 298 score. Tyler Johnson, using a Halo Pearl ball he hadn't pulled out of the bag on Friday, bowled the sole 300 game seen Saturday at St. Clair Bowl in O'Fallon, the second perfecto of his life.
Even entering that 10th frame Johnson felt secure, no nerves.
"It might be just because I was enjoying the moment," he said. "I was trying to tell myself that it's great that you're here and able to be bowling with my friends."
Teammates and bowlers from other teams mobbed Johnson with congratulatory hugs so tight he thought they crushed his windpipe. But in the sixth and final game he and the Saints held on to win the title with a two-day average score of 213.9. Johnson placed fifth overall at 223.1, Edgar Burgos 17th at 216.7.
In school Monday Cutrara and Tyler Johnson spoke at an assembly for the team, a gathering Johnson described as "enthusiastic."
As should be. Whether as St. Charles or St. Charles East, Saints boys and girls had won 37 state titles, but never one in bowling.
"It's just a great feeling especially for my senior year," Johnson said. "We knew we were a good team, but something special had happened."
In for the long haul
As a runner at Bartlett, from 2009-11 Alyssa Schneider finished fifth, sixth and fourth, respectively, in the Class 3A 1,600-meter run. She placed third in 3A cross country in 2009.
After dealing with shin problems that fortunately haven't returned, Schneider went on to star at the University of Illinois, twice reaching the national finals in cross country with an All-American 17th-place finish in 2015.
Excellent, all of it. But the marathon? That was a reach.
"I always thought of myself as athletic, but I didn't really aspire to be at that level. I just wanted to be good," she said.
She is at that level. While carrying a heavy load as an algebra and computer science teacher at Metea Valley, and an assistant girls track and cross country coach, Schneider will run in the Olympic Trials for marathon through downtown Atlanta on Feb. 29.
She'd hit the lower, "B standard" at the 2017 Chicago Marathon and dropped her times each of the next two years. Schneider reached the A standard in 2018 and again last fall at 2 hours, 35 minutes, 41 seconds, the 18th woman to cross the finish line.
She credits two women named Kristen for her ascent in distance running. Her sister, Kristen, two years ahead of Alyssa at Bartlett, introduced Alyssa to cross country as a way to stay in shape for soccer -- which fell by the wayside as Alyssa discovered track and field.
After Alyssa Schneider graduated from Illinois she fell in with the Second City Track Club, whose members alternate sites downtown and in the suburbs on weekends, and at various locations during the week.
A fellow runner with Second City is Kristen Heckert, a Kaneland track athlete who went to Murray State to compete and, like Schneider, study mathematics. Heckert teaches at Plainfield South and after completing her eighth Chicago Marathon she also qualified for the Olympic Trials.
"We just bonded right away," Schneider said.
"I just tried to piggyback off her," she said. "She's just one of the hardest workers I've ever met in my life. Just no excuses, ready to go."
One must be ready to go when balancing teaching, coaching, cross-training and mundane things like getting enough sleep.
Though she's mainly looking to "better my place," she's got three weeks to put it all together in Atlanta.
"I've got to race this smart," she said. "I think people are going to show up and think they have to change everything because it's the big race. But I'm going to have to race it how I got there because I think if I do that I think I'll do well."