I’d like to begin my tribute to the state championship boys bowling team from Andrew and individual state medalist Joey Kopera from Sandburg with a single word of praise.
The word means of great importance or significance, especially in its bearing on the future.
The word first was called to my attention by Andrew coach Mark Lobes following the T-Bolts’ drive to their third boys bowling state championship on Saturday at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon and their first title since 2006.
Andrew picked up steam after a slow start in the final session of bowling at the two-day competition pitting the best-of-the-best on the lanes. The T-Bolts’ five-man team rolled 13 strikes in a row at one point and went on to finish with a pinfall total of 12,821.
The computes to a 213.7 average per man over 12 games.
“The state tournament was momentous for the team,” Lobes said.
Here the reasoning of why: Lobes taught his boys to pull together as a team in a sport that is largely individual in nature. As Three Musketeerish as it sounds, the T-Bolts were one for all and all for one. They stood together, worked together.
They understood the sum of their whole was greater than any of their individual parts. And, don’t be fooled, some of those parts are pretty great.
Josh Powell bowled a 300 game earlier this season. He placed fourth in the individual standings at the IHSA state tournament with a pinfall total of 2,704 and an average of 225.3. Josh Dory was riding hot on his heels all weekend. Dory placed seventh with his 2,671 total and 222.6 average.
But, just so it’s clear, I’d like to say this: Andrew would not have prevailed without the work of Kyle Krol, Kyle Damon, Justin Finnen, Casey Case, Mike Dertz and Nick Ghilardi. All contributed at some point during a remarkable run. They brought a big game or a big presence to the T-Bolts’ effort.
Andrew rolled four games in excess of 1,100 and topped 1,200 once—that’s an average of 240 per man. The word for that is smoking.
“The boys won this for their team, their school and their families,” Lobes said. “They proved they really were the team to beat this season.”
What about next season? Andrew returns five individuals from its state tournament roster—Krol, Finnen, Case, Dertz and Ghilardi. The trick will be for the T-Bolts to duplicate their mojo, their ability to bring teamwork to an individual cause and to measure themselves accordingly.
Kopera’s win was momentous on several fronts. He rallied from 20th place following the first day competition to overtake the field. He finished with a 257 game and 749 series. Turns out, he needed nearly every last one of those pins to strike gold.
"He was down 70 pins and had to leapfrog five guys with one game to go," Sandburg coach Jeff Kwilose said. "As people ahead of him were faltering, Joey hit the gas pedal and never looked back.
" ... I was doing the math and knew this is what he needed ... He struck in the 10th, struck in the 11th. I went up and gave him a hug. For good measure, he struck in the 12th. I haven't felt a rush of adrenalin like that since my playing days. He is the best bowler and best finisher I have ever seen."
Kopera compiled a 227.8 average over his 12 games. He edged Herrin’s C.J. Kirchner by three pins (2,733 to 2,730) in a dual that highlighted some of the virtues that take sports like bowling and turn them into scenes you might picture coming to life in a miniature snow globe. Just give it a shake.
In individual sports, winners are determined in many ways. Finishing first is the gravy that comes after stacking your plate full of personal-achievement goal potatoes. The swimmer that records a best time in an event is a champ even if the competitor in the next lane touches the wall first.
Kopera is a champ, but not only because he touched first. He deserves credit for daring to be different, for challenging himself to go above and beyond and for persevering the face of enormous obstacles and intense pressure. His future is as bright as that of the Andrew boys bowling team, and the reality is that future has nothing to do with whether Kopera continues to rock the lanes.
He has learned to compete, how to handle difficult situations. I have a word for that, too.