Boys bowling: Dixon qualifies for IHSA State Meet for 3rd time in program history

Dukes to make first state appearance since back-to-back trips in 2012 and 2013

The Dixon boys bowling team poses for a photo after qualifying for state at the Jefferson Sectional on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. Front row (from left): David Laird, Daniel Sotelo, Aaron Fitzanko, Sam Gingras. Back row (from left): assistant coach Mitchell Guzzle, Ben Zimmerman, Cody Geil, Clark Bonnewell, Wyatt Miller, head coach CJ Bonnewell, assistant coach Jami Bonnewell.

DIXON – For the third time in program history, the Dixon boys bowling team is headed to state. After placing fifth at the Jefferson Sectional in Rockford last Saturday, the Dukes will compete downstate at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon for the IHSA Boys Bowling State Meet this Friday and Saturday.

Dixon, which was in 12th place after the fifth game of the sectional, rallied to a state-qualifying fifth by rolling a 1,001 in the sixth and final game. That sixth game brought the Dukes’ pinfall to 5,977 for the day – 10 pins above sixth-place finisher and final state qualifier Hononegah.

That sixth-game comeback could be viewed as a microcosm of their season. Overcoming adversity has been a consistent theme for the Dukes throughout the year.

“It’s been 12, 13 years [since Dixon last qualified for state], but I will tell you what it means to me is I’m just happy for the boys,” said Dixon coach CJ Bonnewell, who also praised first-year assistant coach Mitchel Guzzle for helping the team improve this season. “As a coach, I know a lot of times we get credit or blame or the responsibility and all of that, but it really comes down to all we do is lead. At some point, they have to take over and do it on their own. This season, they’ve amazed not just me, everyone, at their ability to overcome adversity and put things together in the last game and just make things happen.

“It’s been a crazy ride.”

The 2023 state-qualifying Dukes are made up of eight bowlers: juniors Clark Bonnewell, Cody Geil, Wyatt Miller, David Laird and Ben Zimmerman, sophomore Sam Gingras and freshmen Daniel Sotelo and Aaron Fitzanko. All eight have stepped up when called upon this season.

Going into the sixth game of the sectional, the Dixon bowlers didn’t realize how much ground they needed to make up – they could only guess. Climbing from 12th place to the minimum-qualifying sixth was going to be difficult no matter what, but not impossible.

Dixon bowlers Daniel Sotelo (left) and Sam Gingras practice Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024 at Blackhawk Lanes in Sterling for the upcoming IHSA boys bowling championship. This is the first time the Dukes’ team has made the tournament.

“We hadn’t gotten a chance to look at the scores yet, so there was no way to look that we were in 12th, but I knew the competition was hard, and I knew we weren’t down too many pins,” Miller said. “I knew if we had one giant game in the last game, then we were going to do fine. We were going to beat the rest of the people and go to state.”

Geil, another of the five juniors, could hardly believe the comeback, but his confidence in the team had steadily grown throughout the season.

“I thought it was really crazy that we were in 12th place after Game 5, and then we jumped to fifth, rolling the highest game out of the six,” Geil said. “I definitely thought [we had potential to make it to state] at the start of the season, but throughout the season it kind of got less. But after our performance at regionals and how we started sectionals, it definitely proved to me that we could.”

Clark Bonnewell and Sotelo each made school history individually by bowling a 300 game this season. Clark Bonnewell recorded the first perfect game at the Dixon Toughman Tournament on Dec. 29 at Plum Hollow. Sotelo’s perfect game came just four days later, in a Jan. 2 dual meet against Sterling at Blackhawk Lanes.

For Clark Bonnewell, a 2022-23 individual state qualifier, it’s the second time advancing to state. This year, he’s excited to return with his entire team in tow.

“Honestly, making it with this team means a lot to me. Last year, I went to state as an individual, and then there was just a ton of growth this season among the team,” Clark Bonnewell said. “Everyone came together, supported each other and ended up making it to sectionals, and then had a phenomenal time at sectionals and qualified for state.”

During the first half of the season, Dixon’s chances of reaching state as a team were far from certain. But after the emergence of the freshman Sotelo, that optimism quickly grew.

“I would say towards the middle half of the end of the season, I realized that Daniel is significantly improved, and I thought maybe we could go really far during the season,” Laird said. “At the beginning, though, I knew we were really good, it’s just that we didn’t have that fifth person, really.

“But Daniel has really proven himself that he can be the fifth person.”

Going into the state meet, the Dukes’ primary goal will be reaching the second day. Anything beyond that would be icing on the cake.

Clark Bonnewell has his sights set on the all-state team – and a high ranking on the individual leaderboards – in addition to the common team goal.

“I have really high expectations this year. Last year, I was taking it slow, seeing what it would be like for the next coming years,” Clark Bonnewell said. “This year, my goal is to be on the all-state team, and I just want to place top 10, personally.”

Dixon bowler Clark Bonnewell fires a ball down the lane while practicing for the weekend’s IHSA bowling tournament Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
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Dan Wussow

Dan Wussow

Dan is the sports editor for Sauk Valley Media. Previously, he wrote for The Post-Crescent in his hometown of Appleton, WI.