STERLING – The Golden Warriors girls bowling team is breaking new ground and heading back to familiar territory, all at the same time.
Sterling came away from the Rock Island Regional with its first regional title in program history, and did it with freshmen Olivia Zinanni and Grace Schultz putting up their highest and third-highest scores.
Though not many of this year’s Warriors have bowled in a sectional, the location is a familiar one. For Saturday’s LaSalle-Peru Sectional, they return to Illinois Valley Super Bowl in Peru. In a NIB-12 dual there on Dec. 5, the Warriors beat LaSalle-Peru 2,896-2,748, with Zinanni rolling a 289 second game and a 681 series.
“It was really oily on the outside, and I like to play up and in, which is close to our house shot,” Zinanni said. “It just worked out for me.”
The regional title was Sterling’s first since bowling adopted regionals for the 2013-14 season. When teams opened their postseasons with the sectional, Sterling won a sectional title in 2011-12.
Up until Saturday, Sterling had never been particularly close to a regional title. In four previous regionals, the Golden Warriors finished 10th, eighth, eighth and ninth.
Last year’s ninth-place regional finish saw the Warriors topple 4,896 pins, 1,006 pins behind regional champion Sycamore, and 502 behind the fourth and final sectional qualifier Freeport.
Kyleigh Glazier and Zoey Paone were the only Sterling bowlers who took aim at a pin at Plum Hollow for the 2017 regional who were on the lanes in Rock Island this year. But the Warriors knew that on its way was a talented group including Zinanni and Schultz.
“We’ve all been bowling a long time with each other, and last year we knew the freshmen coming in were going to be good and that’s what we were going to need,” Paone said.
Zinanni has been a force on the lanes for the Warriors all year. A 275 in her third game helped lead Sterling to a win over Dixon in November. A few days later, she helped lead Sterling to a second-place finish at the Kewanee Invitational.
“She’s been training, learning the game. I’ve actually been giving her lessons for 7 or 8 years,” Sterling coach Loren Wolf said. “She really takes after the game. She’s serious about wanting to do good at it.”
Zinanni said her goal for the year was to average 180. She is averaging 184 right now.
Plus, she is part of a team that exceeded expectations in the regional.
“I knew that we could do it, but it wasn’t expected [we would] bring home the plaque,” Zinanni said. “We were expected in second, third or fourth.”
But they cannot sit back and enjoy that accomplishment for long. They have another round of the postseason looming at the end of the week, with a ticket to state up for grabs.
“The celebration was great, and it was nice to experience it, but I’ll keep a level head through the whole thing and just stay calm and hope we make it through to state,” Zinanni said.
“I think we’re going to feed off the good performance there,” Wolf said. “If we can come back and do the same thing, we look good to be able to go on to state. If they bowl average, like they have before, our season might end. It was more getting them on board with the mental side of the game, and they seem to have done it well.”
Glazier is the only Warrior who has bowled at sectional before, having qualified as an individual last year. Though other members of the team will be making their sectional debuts, Wolf is not expecting them to just be happy to be there.
“I think they can show us something,” Wolf said. “Olivia is our top bowler, a week ago [against DeKalb] she had a 298 game and a 738 series. I definitely look for her to lead the way as far as scoring goes.”
Being used to the conditions they will see, Paone said that the Warriors will have to “move your target, move what board you’re standing on.”