By Randy Whalen
There's an old saying: "Act like you've been there before."
In a crowded field for the five individual bowling state qualifying positions last weekend, that's what Evergreen Park junior Kiara Smith did.
Smith advanced to the state tournament by totaling 1,231 pins to place seventh overall and third among individual qualifiers at the Plainfield North Sectional at Echo Lanes in Morris on Feb. 15.
The top five individuals not on the top four state-qualifying teams advanced to the state finals, to be held Friday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 22 at The Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
Stagg sophomore Nyjah Branch rolled a 1,219 to place ninth overall and fifth among the individual state qualifiers.
It will be the first state tournament appearance for both Smith and Branch.
"I was a tiny bit nervous, but I knew I've done the bowling before," Smith said. "So I knew what I was doing, I just had to do it. I was consistent. I feel very happy to be going to state."
Smith rolled 628 in the morning session and 603 in the afternoon. She had four games of at least 201 with a high of 238.
Branch, who was the individual champion the previous Saturday with a 1,311 at the Oak Lawn Regional, and T.F. South junior Michele Chancey (1,211, 10th overall, high of 241 in Game No. 1) were both vying for the final spot going into the final game. Branch had a 167 but Chancey came in only one-pin better at 168.
"No, I didn't know," Branch said of making it to state. "I was scared, really. My mom told me I was close and that made me more nervous.
"I was close in the sectional last year, too. This season I've been bowling better and it feels really good."
Other local individuals that were close to making it were Sandburg senior Vanessa Perez (1,161, high of 244) and Shepard sophomore Taylor Sprenkle (1,147, high of 238).
Lockport breezed to the team title with a 6,201 team total to win by 846 pins. The Porters, who won their eighth straight sectional championship and state-record 22nd in school history, will make their 25th state finals appearance in their 35-year history as a program this weekend.
Evergreen Park (5,093) finished eighth, Stagg (4,914) took 10th, Richards (4,730) placed 11th and Chicago Christian (4,457) was 12th.
Richards was led by senior Mia Jones (1,123, high of 207). Chicago Christian was paced by sophomore Jess Vollan (993, high of 179).