Samantha Perez can laugh about it now.
The Oswego East senior remembers well her first game at the state bowling tournament. It was two years ago. She bowled a 119.
"My hands were really shaky," Perez said. "I was nervous that I wasn't going to be perfect for each shot. I doubted my abilities. I decided after that to strengthen up and just throw my game."
Perez recovered nicely, and the Wolves took fifth in 2015. They followed that up with a seventh-place finish last year.
Perez can relax now. She's Oswego East's steady hand going into this weekend's meet at The Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
She can't wait.
"Honestly it's the most fun tournament I've ever been in," said Perez, who will bowl collegiately at Valparaiso while she pursues a nursing degree. "All the teams there, all the interactions you make. I think it brings out the best in me."
Perez and Oswego East, second at the Andrew Sectional to Lockport, will be joined at state by crosstown rival Oswego. The Panthers took fourth at sectionals.
As much as anything, Wolves coach Jeremy Hillman has seen Perez's mental game grow over the years. She had a 213 average going into the conference meet, and took first place individually there.
Perez bowled a 1,281 at the sectional meet.
"I don't want to say Sam is robotic, but she's very constant. To see her struggle is a rare thing," Hillman said. "She'll play inside, she'll play outside - she's so adaptable to the lanes. She's very thorough in what she does and she goes into these events trying to keep the team loose."
Perez started bowling in the fifth grade. When she was 10 her dad and grandpa put her in a league. By eighth grade she was starting to take bowling seriously, and quit cheerleading and dance.
"It was a junior league on Saturdays with a bunch of strangers, but I loved it," said Perez. "It teaches you to be really strong.
The Wolves had a breakthrough performance at sectionals from another senior, Ashley Smith rolling a 1,355. Kiana Krahulik bowled a 1,290, Samantha Mattern a 1,228, Kyleigh Rogers a three-game total of 562 and Kassy Krahulik a 548.
"Ashley is not somebody that's going to rip the cover off - she's going to slow roll and get it pretty accurate to the area," Hillman said. "As you can see it scores. She did awesome. We're excited to see what she does at Cherry because it fits her game."
Oswego's top series at sectionals was bowled by Alyssa Lang (1,252), followed by Taylor Kies (1,223), Rachel Clifton (1,159), Megan Douglas (1,135) and Shannon Torrez (1,008).
The state tournament starts on Friday, with 24 teams trying to reach the final 12 on Saturday. Perez already has a scouting report for the Rockford lanes ready for her younger teammates.
"If you keep the ball speed low, go straight up the boards, that's the way you're most successful," Perez said. "That's what I'm going to try to do and adjust off of that."