Coach Tim Wilson is counting on a year of experience making a big difference for the Granite City boys bowling team.
The Warriors lost only one bowler to graduation and the entire starting lineup returns.
"We had our ups and downs," said Wilson, in the second year of his second stint as the Warriors' coach and his seventh overall. "We were 9-3-1 and defeated Belleville East at their place and swept Edwardsville. We tied Alton, who was the conference champion, at their place, but they beat us pretty bad here (at AMF Bowland).
"We didn't get anyone to state because we chose the sectional to have our worst day of the season. Billy Lijewski, Eric Mann and Matt all had a bad sectional. We were hoping to come out as the No. 2 seed or even win it, but we didn't even have any individual qualifiers.
"I told those guys we want to win every time we go out, but the only one that really matters is the sectional. If you don't do well there, you don't go to state."
The boys opened the season Saturday with a 10th-place finish among 26 teams in the Kahok Invitational at Camelot Bowl in Collinsville.
"We learned about our strengths and weaknesses, but (junior) Eric Mann has stepped up this year and it looks like he's going to be our anchor bowler," Wilson said. "He's real solid and comes through under pressure.
"(Senior) Billy Lijewski is an outstanding bowler as well, so I look for those guys to lead us. Nathan Briggs is a sophomore and it looks like he'll fit into the mix.
"Matt Clark is a senior and he's kind of like the energy of the team. He keeps the spirits high."
Rounding out the varsity roster are senior Donnie Pikesley (the team's leadoff bowler last year) and juniors Christian Hildreth and Alex Heiman and sophomore Ryan Kovach.
"Alex changed his bowling style last year to try to become more consistent and it's finally starting to pay off for him," Wilson said.
The girls team lost three starters to graduation. The top returning bowlers are seniors Erica Hay and Brandi Miller. Sophomore Heather Travis returns for her second varsity season.
"It's a matter of finding those key support roles and getting the fourth and fifth bowlers to throw a strong game," Wilson said. "We have more numbers this year than we've had in a long time, although we have only one freshman. The girls know their backs are against the wall because we haven't been successful in a couple years."
Freshman Ashley Briggs is among the contenders for a varsity role.
"She's a soccer player at heart, but she's also a good bowler and she knows what she's doing," Wilson said. "(Sophomore) Kati Dickerson will have the opportunity to be in the top five. Mercedes Rodriguez is a senior and she's expected to be a key contributor. (Sophomore) Brooke Andrews shows a lot of promise."
The boys and girls have their first dual match Monday at Roxana and bowl Tuesday at East St. Louis. The girls are in the Kahok Team Challenge Nov. 26 at Camelot Bowl.
"We always want to finish well at the sectional and qualify for state as a team," Wilson said. "Other than that, we look to be more consistent. Last year we were all over the board, so we need to stop being that roller coaster type of team."