Girls bowling: Emotional finish to season for Elk Grove's Villegas
Elk Grove senior Natalia Villegas said she got "a little bit emotional" as the final frames wound down at Saturday's girls bowling state finals.
"I started to realize that this was my last (high school) tournament," said Villegas, "and it's amazing how the year just flew by."
And though her prep career came to an end at Cherry Bowl in Rockford, it couldn't have concluded in a more memorable fashion.
Villegas finished second in the Wheelchair Division, posting a 794 six-game series and a meet-best 167 game.
It's the second time the senior finished runner-up in the state tourney. She did so as a freshman, and also placed 3rd as a sophomore as this weekend capped an unforgettable prep run.
"It just shows that all of the hard work I've put in for four years has paid off," Villegas said of this year's finish.
Grenadiers coach Timothy Redel, said Villegas had to "change up her shot" a little bit in the last three weeks, and that she is a competitor who is completely deserving of all the laurels she has received.
"Natalia is the most upbeat, inspiring person I know," said Redel. "She's an extremely hard worker, and is constantly cheering on her teammates. She has a very rare disability and is in a lot pain, but her spirit remains amazing."
Robert Ray, who was Grens' coach for Villegas' first two seasons, added that Villegas "took to the sport right off the bat in her freshman year."
"She was relentless and took up every challenge in front of her," said Ray. "She never complained and got along great with her teammates, who really respected her. Natalia was very coachable, and one great thing about her was that she had phenomenal family resources. They made sure that they supported her and that she had all the proper equipment, and once she got on the lanes, she was just a spitfire out there."
Villegas is still deciding on her college choice for the fall, where she hopes to study graphic design and psychology.
"With those two (subjects)," she said, "I can put my passions about art, and learning about the human body, together in some shape or form."
While Villegas was competing in her final campaign, Prospect's Katie Ruszczak was just starting out at as a sophomore in the Standard Division -- and what an opening statement Ruszczak made this year.
She was first in average in the Mid-Suburban League, won the Palatine regional with a score of 1,323 and rolled a 1,215 for the second best score at the Buffalo Grove sectional.
And this weekend, Ruszczak posted 5 games over 200 -- including a 237 on Saturday -- to finish in the top 30 individually.
Not a bad beginning for a player who began to love the sport at the tender age of 3, accompanying her sister Ashley -- a standout Knights bowler between 2004 and 2008 -- to Prospect meets and tourneys.
And now, in a coincidental turn of events, sister Ashley is currently Prospect's head coach.
"Even with the 15- year age difference, it's really kind of cool," said Ashley (Mahanna) of the pairing. "She deserves all of the accolades and success that she has received and she's such a hard worker, in season and out of season. Leagues, practices, tournaments, she has committed to the sport year-round."
Ruszczak said that she had set some goals for the season, but "couldn't have imagined" the strides she made this year, especially the 1-2 placements in the regional and sectional.
"This was fun," said Ruszczak of her first state experience. "The place was packed, just like it's been pretty much everywhere we've been this year. This (meet) was a learning experience for me. I'm just so lucky that my sister has been my coach and has been here with me -- she's someone I've looked up to my whole life.
"In the future I want to move on, continue to bowl in college, and someday in the PWBA (Professional Women's Bowling Association.). To do that, I've got to continue to work hard."