The story written by the Plainfield South boys bowling team this year was of tragedy to triumph.
Tragedy leveled the squad when teammate Eric Brander was killed in a car accident December 11. Triumph came at the state meet Saturday when the Cougars captured the school and District 202's first team state championship of any kind.
"To sum it up in a few words would be truly amazing," junior Brandyn Andelbrandt said. "It was like a true Cinderella story. We won conference and now a state championship. There is really no other way to explain it."
"Eric gave this team inspiration," Plainfield South athletic director Bob Yanello said in a speech during a school pep rally Monday, which featured nearly 1,000 people. "Eric Brander will live in these guys and many of you forever. He was the deciding factor for these young men bringing home the state championship. They did it for Eric and he will live in them forever."
"What a wonderful season," South coach Jeff Bailey said. "Their goal was to do it and they stuck with it. I'm extremely proud of them."
"To do something for him and to win something like the state championship, that's not just a regular invite, it's not easy to do" Andelbrandt said. "They announced his name at the state tournament, which was great. It gave us goosebumps."
The team draped a medal around a large, white cross, which is part of a makeshift memorial for Brander on the south side of Caton Farm Road just east of Caton Ridge Road in far western Joliet.
"Five high school kids came together off a tragic accident to make something of the season," Andelbrandt said. "That's like a Cinderella story to me."
"They kept their emotions in check during the season knowing they lost a very important part of the team," Bailey said. "Now, they can let it all out and really grieve. They never really had a chance to grieve."
Plainfield South played with heavy hearts and with the memory of Brander alive and well in their souls as they steamrolled the competition at St. Clair Bowl in downstate O'Fallon to do what no other Plainfield team had done previously.
Brander, a senior, would have turned 18 years old Jan. 15, just days before the Cougars won their first Southwest Prairie Conference championship. A week later, South advanced to the state meet by taking second place at the loaded Lockport sectional.
Which brings us to the state meet where the top 24 teams and 30 additional individuals went at it during 12 games Friday and Saturday to determine who would wear the coveted crown of state champ. Like an ending reserved for a Hollywood movie, the Cougars rolled a 12,604 (1,050 average) pinfall for 12 games to secure the state championship.
Andelbrandt, Calvin Hendickson and Will Eklove each finished among the top 12 during the two-day tournament to earn all-state honors.
"I can't believe that. I can't believe that we are the first ones," Bailey said of bringing home the first state championship in any sport in District 202 history. "It's a big honor. They deserve every bit of attention they get. From the beginning of the season, they earned it. I'm very proud of these guys."