ROCKTON- The Hononegah bowling team has a lot to live up to.
The Indians have quite simply been the area's best program, regardless of sport, in the area over the past five years.
They captures IHSA state titles in 2015 and 2018, finished second in 2016 and 2017 and began their journey in 2016 with a sixth-place finish.
This year might be coach Brad Sommer's greatest challenge.
Gone are five of last year's top bowlers: Nick Sommer, Zachary Phillips, Parker Hearne, Cordel Schelm and Brett Beuthin all graduated from last year's title team.
But the cupboard is hardly bare for the Tribe. Returning are seniors Jacob Sommer and Dylan Hamil along with sophomore Ty Wasserman.
Coach Sommer believes the team can again make a bid for a run to state.
"Our entire team, the coaches, everybody, we all like our chances to defend our state title," Sommer said. "Even though we lost five key bowlers, we are blessed to be so deep as a program that we feel like we can give it a roll here. We aren't scared of anyone, I can tell you that. The best team is going to win, and we think we have the talent to be that team."
Early in the season, the Indians have had a good deal of success. They defeated fellow perennial power Harlem to win in the NIC-10 preseason meet, and competed well with the Huskies but fell short in two other competitive weekend tournaments.
"We've got an interesting team right now in that we have four seniors and four sophomores," Sommer said. "The seniors we have really have provided great leadership so far. Dylan and Jacob both had experience in those high-pressure situations, and that's very important."
Justin and Jalen Anderson join Hamil and Sommer as the veterans of the squad, while Justin Mooney, James Stewart and Cameron Tyler join Wasserman to provide a solid core.
Those eight bowlers have an incredible 40 more in line behind them, waiting for their opportunity to compete on the varsity level.
"I believe we are the largest high school bowling team in the world," Sommer said. "I know that we are in the country, and I haven't heard of one bigger anywhere else. We are a very inclusive program, and we encourage anyone to come on out and give it a try. We aren't going to give up on anybody. Just because we might have a freshman that's averaging 98, that doesn't mean that with a lot of hard work and some coaching they won't be a really good bowler by the time they are a senior."
Sommer said the opportunity to give students the opportunity to be a part of a winning program was important to him.
"We don't cut anybody," Sommer said. "We have enough room in our bowling center to accommodate a large number, so that's what we do. Just like any other sport, playing time at the varsity level has to be earned. Other than that, we want to be an outlet for kids who are willing to work hard every day in practice and get better. Our team picture looks like a football team with so many kids."
The Indians will be back in action Thursday afternoon when they take on Boylan.