Girls bowling: Joliet West celebrates IHSA state championship

Tigers roll past two other area teams to state title

The state champion Joliet West girls bowling team is celebrated Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, at the school during a rally after winning the title earlier in the weekend in Rockford.

ROCKFORD and JOLIET – When John Lizzio stepped in as the head coach for the Joliet West girls bowling team, he told the team something right away.

That they were going to win state.

This past Saturday, the Tigers did just that. They took charge with a 1,125 game to open Friday afternoon and led by 254 pins after the opening day, completing the mission the next day at the Cherry Bowl in Rockford. Then Sunday, Joliet West celebrated the title at the school with a public gathering.

Led by the all-state performances of senior Ella Steinke and sophomore Mia Antomez, Joliet West rolled a 12,223 total. That beat out local rivals Minooka (11,983) by 240 pins and Lockport (11,732) by 491, as the Herald-News area finished a fantastic run with the top three teams.

But just as Lizzio had told the team from the start, the Tigers were on top as they won their second state championship in the sport (2016) and rebounded from a second-place finish by 33 pins from last season.

“He told us from Day No. 1, and we always believed it,” Steinke said. “It was almost like a mantra. He trusted us, and we trusted him.”

Through the process of the season, the Tigers trusted each other. They captured the Southwest Prairie Conference title and then won the Minooka Regional by 431 pins over the host school. Joliet West hosted its own sectional beating Minooka by 143 pins, then prevailed over Minooka again at state.

“Just thanks to everyone for giving me this opportunity,” Lizzio said at the celebration assembly. “I was with Reggie Lee on the boys team for seven years as an assistant. Reggie is my friend and my mentor. Also thanks to (former girls coach) Jeff Bailey at Town & Country for helping our bowlers. Thanks to (athletic secretary) Christi Cardwell, who is amazing, and thanks to my wife and family, you are amazing.

“Thanks to my assistant coach, Hannah Jaros, and, of course, thanks to the girls and parents who trusted me. From Day 1 I said that we were going to win state. The girls started believing. I didn’t have to do much. I just had to keep them focused, and they did it.”

For the second straight season, Joliet West had a pair of all-staters. Steinke (2,586, high game of 279 in the fourth game of the first day) placed fourth overall, and Antomez (2,578, high of 266 in the fourth game of the second day) was fifth this season.

“It was so much better as a team,” Steinke said. “I didn’t even pay attention to my scores. I just wanted us to go higher and higher as a team.”

Antomez was a freshman on the team last season and did very well with a 2,402 and 23rd place finish at state. But this season she was used to it and took charge as a leader.

“Last year the competition seemed a lot bigger,” Antomez said. “This season we had people come in and step up. Our connection was way better this season, and we knew what we needed to do.

“It wasn’t easy, and we had to put in everything. If I had a bad game, I had to put it behind me and come back very focused for the team. It felt like war out there. Lockport and Minooka are two very good teams in the area, and everyone is amazing.”

The second-place finish for Minooka tied for its highest-ever (2012) and was its fifth state trophy. Seniors Annie Honsik (6th, 2,538) and Jenna Ritchie (10th, 2,506) were all-state for the Indians.

The Porters’ third-place finish ended a streak of three straight state titles. But senior all-stater Paige Matiasek (7th, 2,535) helped them to their 11th state trophy and seventh in the past nine postseasons.

Freshman Gianna Mendoza (15th, 2,460, high of 245 in the opening game on Day 1) and senior Gracie French (39th, 2,319, high of 226 in Game No. 6 on the final day) bowled all 12 games for Joliet West. Sophomore Samantha French (1,242, high of 257 on the opening day of the second day) bowled seven games, while sophomore Malorie Berry (1,038) rolled five games. Sophomore Emily Michon and senior Elizabeth Voss didn’t bowl at state for the Tigers.

Berry bowled the afternoon session on the first day and then was put in for the final two games on the final day. All she did there was bowl a 207 in the fifth game, and then, with Minooka still in striking distance, had strikes with the opening 10 balls before finishing with a team and personal best 285 to close it out.

“Every single time I just took a deep breath and threw it,” Berry said of flirting with her first-ever 300 game. “I thought, ‘If this is going to happen, it’s going to happen.’ That was my highest-ever game, and I was pretty excited.

“I knew I could come in and do well. None of us were going to go down without a fight.”

No, they weren’t.

Minooka, which started the final day in third place and was 344 pins out had closed the gap to 129 heading into the last game. The Indians put up a 1,037 final game, but Joliet West responded with an 1,148. That was the Tigers’ top game of the season.

“In our last game, I told them we were up by 129 pins and go out and get it one frame at a time,” Lizzio said. “But Hannah said for us ‘to go out with our best game of the weekend.’ We went out with our best game of the year.

“It put the stamp on it for us.”

The Joliet West girls bowling team won the state championship Saturday.