2A Bowling: Local Teams Aiming to be EvCo Kingpins
Picking Up Spares: Rochester Joins W.F. West in Quest for Bowling Accolades
By Jordan Nailon
Rochester is the latest local school to add a girls bowling team to the ranks of the 2A Evergreen Conference.
Last year W.F. West fielded a bowling team for the first time and they made it look fun enough that the Warriors were keen to join the fray around the hand drier this season. Other teams in the conference include Tumwater, Black Hills, Aberdeen, and Montesano.
“We actually had a ton of interest,” said Rochester co-head coach Kevin Nealer, who noted that more than 40 girls came out to the initial team meetings, with the final team total at 15 bowlers.
“That’s a pretty good way for it to shake out because only five girls can bowl in a (varsity) match.”
Nealer, who shares head coaching duties with Vikki Vice, says that there’s something about bowling that is more approachable than other solo sports like track and golf. He noted that not only is the Warrior’s inaugural team filled with greenhorn bowlers, many are turning out for their first-ever high school sport.
“Zee Lowry bowls in a league,” said Nealer of his team’s junior queen of experience. “She’s the only one who came into the season with her own ball and her own shoes. We’ll put it that way.”
Other members of Rochester’s team have donned different blue and gold uniforms before they tried on bowling shoes and collared shirts. Those multi-sport athletes on the Rochester roster include Thaila Phothisat, Sarah Soderback and Amerika Jones.
So far Phothisat, a senior, Lowry, a junior, and Jones, a freshman, have been turning in the highest scores for the Warriors round rock rollers.
Nealer says that even among the most inexperienced of the group the first few weeks of the program’s history have provided plenty of opportunities to improve. He says some girls who started off rolling scores in the 40s and 60s are already approaching the century mark. He noted that a score of at least 140 will typically put a player into the conversation for a varsity spot.
“A lot of it is just finding a spot where they are comfortable and consistent. A lot of trial and error,” Nealer said. “It’s just really fun for them to see that growth.”
So far Rochester is 0-2 on the season with losses to Timberline and Aberdeen but those early hiccups have not done anything to dampen the spirits of the upstart Warrior rollers.
“We’ve been learning a lot of bowling etiquette already,” said Nealer. “We’re excited to be starting fresh and the girls think it’s cool to be the first team in school history.”
If Rochester is looking for a blueprint that will keep them out of the gutter from the get-go the Bearcats can provide a prime example. The team’s even share space at Fairway Lanes Bowling in Centralia for their dueling practice sessions and home matches.
W.F. West head coach Donnie Bunker noted that even last year his team was able to hang with more experienced teams, including a pair of close losses to the state champions from Mark Morris.
“Pretty much a spare and strike is all that separated us from the state champions in our first year,” noted Bunker.
This year the Bearcats are boasting 20 girls on their roster which is enough for a varsity, junior varsity and two C-squad teams. The varsity contingent returns all but one bowler from last year’s groundbreaking team. That bowler, Ashley Werner, graduated last year after finishing 11th in state.
This year’s returners include Ellie Bunker, a junior, who placed 14th last year at the 1A/2A state bowling championships and totes a game average of about 185.
“The girls expect to win the league this year. They’ve been working hard. We know what we’re doing this year and what to expect whereas last year we were just figuring out how to compete in league matches,” said Bunker, who hopes to be able to topple the Monarchs this year.
The other Bearcat bowlers expected to hold down varsity spots are Leslie Erwin, Jessica Loflin, Brianna Powe, and Kelsey Stritmatter. Both Erwin and Bunker were voted 2nd Team All-Conference in 2017 when they averaged scores of 160 and 180, respectively. Powe was voted most improved player on W.F. West in their inaugural campaign and Stritmatter was voted most inspirational by her teammates who have come to appreciate her consistent effort. Loflin is looking to improve on a freshman season in which she earned a varsity letter.
Bunker says that Alyssa Rudolph and Camie Aldrich are among the next tier of bowlers who are aiming to add their name to the varsity tier.
“There’s quite a few girls who will push the varsity, that’s for sure,” said Bunker.
W.F. West defeated Montesano 16-2 on Wednesday to open their season. The Bearcats will face Rochester on Monday at 3:30 p.m. at Fairway Lanes in a conference contest.