Zev Grodzin didn’t set out to make history this season for the Evanston bowling team.

But the Wildkit senior did just that Saturday at the Immaculate Conception Sectional tournament in Glendale Heights.

Grodzin punched a ticket to the Illinois High School Association state finals by finishing 2nd overall and posting the best individual series for at-large qualifiers at the tourney. He joined former ETHS star Jake Rubin, who qualified in 2018, as the only state qualifiers to date in the history of the program.

Grodzin’s career-high series of 1317 pins trailed only individual champion Kyle Bailey of Glenbard East, who had a pinfall of exactly 1400. Evanston’s other entrant, junior Aiden Cella, was in contention for a qualifying berth until the final game and settled for a non-qualifying pinfall of 1170.

Grodzin will advance to the state tournament set for Friday and Saturday at St. Clair Bowl in downstate O’Fallon. The top 30 individuals who aren’t members of qualifying teams will advance to Saturday’s final rounds.

“At the beginning of the year, I just wanted to have fun and see what I could do,” said Grodzin, a member of the bowling squad all 4 years. “I didn’t expect to go to State.

“I got off to a good start Saturday and I just wanted to keep it going. I’ve been around 1200 a lot this year (for a 6-game-series), but not 1300. I got to the point where I stopped looking at my phone and at the other scores because I didn’t want to mess with my head. I knew I was leading at one point, but finishing 2nd is fun, too.”

Grodzin’s series included games of 212, 227, 223, 213, 225 and 217 to nail down the trip to State.

“In one of the games, I had 2 open frames in the first 3 frames and I thought oh, no, this might be a bad game for me,” said the ETHS senior. “I think it was in my second to last game, but I still ended up getting a 200.”

“Zev was actually in first place for a bit there,” noted Evanston coach Harold Bailey. “It’s not a surprise to me that Zev made it to State. I just wish I had 10 more guys coming with us to State.

“The one thing we talked about was staying consistent and the whole team was consistent this year. Zev has a track record of being consistent since his freshman year, and the last two years he’s stayed in the pocket and really elevated his game. He was consistent in the regional and he was consistent in the sectional, and that’s what put him in this position.

“At one point I saw him checking the stats (scoring leaders). Bowlers are finicky, like golfers and baseball players, and sometimes you just have to let them do their own thing. It didn’t bother him that at one point he was well in front of everyone. He just kept doing his thing.”

Grodzin actually finished a close second to teammate Cella during the regular season when it came to scoring averages, but Cella’s bid ran out of steam with a final game of 162 following consecutive efforts of 200, 228, 205, 191 and 184.

The Evanston junior endured a case of mononucleosis this month and had to battle through the illness just to make it out of the regional, after finishing runnerup in the Central Suburban League tournament.

“Aiden wasn’t 100 percent, but he really battled through,” praised Bailey. “He helped Zev make a few adjustments, too. A bunch of the other guys (potential qualifiers) were falling off at the end and he needed to be around 200 to make it. He was still in it, he just fell a little bit short.”

“This is exciting for me, for the program and for the school. From where the program first was when I started coaching (7 years ago) to now, Evanston wasn’t on anybody’s radar before. I think we are now. We’re really happy to get someone Downstate.

“At State, the goal is for Zev to get to the second day. It’s a whole different experience, a whole different environment. Some guys will bring a skill game, some will bring a power game, but the most important thing down there is the mental game. You can’t let the environment rattle you, and I don’t think that will bother Zev.”

Grodzin isn’t feeling any pressure at this point, although his surge as a senior has him considering the potential for continuing to compete at the collegiate level.

“This is my last year and I really wanted to go out with a bang,” he said. “Now there’s a chance I might go to college for bowling. I was checking out one pro bowler whose average is 218, and my average was 219 this weekend. So anything is possible.

“To be honest, I want to do a good job this weekend, but it’s also just to get the experience of being there. It’s so cool just to go to a state tournament. Whatever happens, I’ll be happy I got to this point.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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