The Springfield girls bowling team is in uncharted territory as it rolls into the new season.
After reaching the state tournament last year for the first time in program history, the Spartans wear a large target on their backs. For head coach Matt Graves and his bowlers, it's a tall task, but one for which last season's success has sketched out a solid blueprint.
"I think the state tournament (run) will be beneficial for us as we go through the season," Graves said. "We will have to overcome adversity and I think we learned that it is a long season and every pin counts, so you cannot get down when things don't go well."
The starting lineup for the two-time defending Portage Trail Conference Metro Division champions returns three of its five bowlers. The Spartans are led by reigning PTC Metro Bowler of the Year Chelsea Crihfield, who earned the league's top honor last season as a sophomore and has been First Team All-PTC in each of her first two seasons.
Behind Crihfield in the lineup are fellow juniors Amanda Smith (First Team All-PTC) and Savannah Nestor (Second Team All-PTC) and senior Kylie Jackson.
"Savannah, I think, is underrated," Graves said. "In my mind, she is first team."
Smith is currently out with a knee injury that Graves believes could be serious enough to sideline her for an extended period of time. If she is unable to return, the Spartans will turn to juniors Ami George and Hannah Jordan, both of whom have improved their game during the offseason.
The schedule has tested the Spartans in the early going, including a loss in their season opener to perennial state qualifier Jackson. After dropping a close contest to the Polar Bears, Springfield responded with back-to-back wins over Woodridge (1,980-1,763) and PTC Metro rival Crestwood (1,920-1,767). The two wins by combined total of 370 pins in the wake of a tough loss proved Graves' message to his team about maintaining a level head at all times.
"You have to maintain a moderate level. You cannot get too down or too happy no matter what is going," Graves said.
The team's junior leaders will handle much of the leadership burden and as all three have been on the varsity squad since they were freshmen, they are comfortable in the role.
Graves continues to remind his team that regardless of last season's accomplishments, there is no escaping the oft-cited sports mantra of improving on a daily basis and not focusing too far into the future.
"We return our three juniors that have made huge contributions since they were freshmen and as a team, our goal is to get better every day, win the PTC for the third year in a row and advance to the state tournament," Graves said.
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