MORRIS – Nothing in Jessica Winter’s bowling career comes close, she said, to finding out she had advanced individually out of the Moline Sectional last Saturday.
“I cried. I did,” Winter said. “I was just really happy, I guess. I didn’t expect myself to be able to do that, and I’m just glad that my friends were there and my family, and I just hugged everyone. My mom was like, ‘That’s like the hardest you’ve ever hugged me.’ ”
Winter developing into a state qualifier did not seem likely when she first entered the Morris program. She was part of youth leagues at Echo Lanes for “a couple of years” before high school, but she estimates that her high game before high school was around a 50.
Winter’s older sister, Megan, bowled for the Redskins, and Winter thought doing so would be fun. She joined the team and had some moderate success as a freshman on the junior varsity team. Her average, she estimates, was around a 150.
By Winter’s sophomore year, she was getting varsity playing time. She won the program’s Most Improved award that year, which lead to her showing newfound offseason dedication. She “practiced a ton,” she said, last summer after only bowling a few times the summer before, and the result was that she held down a varsity spot all season for the Redskins as a junior.
Still, Winter did not expect that she would advance to state and her teammates would not. Morris bowled the highest score, a 5,780, of any non-qualifying team in the state, with senior Amber Benson adding a 1,999, junior Taylor Warwick a 1,167 and senior Savannah Strange a 1,138 to Winter’s 1,240.
“We really did have a good chance to make it out. We had three 130 games out of the 30 games, and they just cost us a lot of pins,” Morris coach Harry Banks said. “And we were in a tough sectional. If we were in any other sectional, it would’ve been a totally different story, but that’s not the way the game’s played. You gotta go where you go.”
Some of the eliminated Morris bowlers plan to be on hand to support Winter at The Cherry Bowl, which she has said “I think will help me.” She credits her teammates’ support with helping her get there and admits it will be bittersweet bowling without them.
“I know that a lot of them were upset that they couldn’t go, especially since four of them were seniors,” Winter said. “But I think some of them were very proud of me, and I was really grateful for all of them being like that for me, because I would be the same way.”
Winter said she has no real expectation of finishing among the leaders at state, but Banks said success is possible for her.
“Her game, the way that she throws the ball, matches up really well to like what we bowled on Saturday, matches really great for Rockford,” Banks said. “Jess has got a good chance to bowl really good there. She really does. We practiced on the pattern [Monday], and she’ll practice on it again [Tuesday], and she’s throwing strikes at will. She’s bowling good, she’s got a lot of confidence going right now. You never know.”