(Posted March 15, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
All pins count, but four pins in particular meant the difference between Jonathan Alder getting out of the qualifying round for a shot at the state title and going home empty-handed before the championship round even began.
For the seventh time in eight years, the Pioneers girls’ bowling team made it to the OHSAA state tournament, held March 12 at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl. Prior to this season, the program’s best finish at state was 11th place. This year’s team set a new standard, nabbing second place and the runners-up trophy.
“We couldn’t be happier for the kids and all the families involved. It’s a big group effort,” said Rusty Walter who coaches the team with his brother, Mike Walter. “It was so high energy and a lot of emotions and just a lot of fun. We really had a great time.”
And about those four pins…
Through sectional and district competition, 16 teams qualify for the state tournament. Once at state, those 16 teams compete in a qualifying round to determine which eight teams move on to compete for the state title in the championship round. The qualifying round starts with three regular games in which five bowlers from each team complete three individual games. Then, the five bowlers combine to play three “baker” games in which each team member bowls two frames of each game. The scores from both sets of games are combined.
“We struggled in the first (regular) game of qualifying. The second game was better, then we bowled a 926 in the third game which jumped us from 13th place to eighth place,” Rusty said.
Next up were the baker games which went fairly well, he continued, then came the wait to see if the combined effort was enough to earn a spot in the championship round. As it turned out, Jonathan Alder edged out Amherst Steele for the eighth and final qualifying spot…by four points.
“We were all sitting in the bleachers, waiting to hear who the top eight were,” said Kadie Walter, a senior on the team and Mike’s daughter. “I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it or not. Once we heard, we were jumping around and yelling, ‘We made it!’”
“We all went crazy–all the parents, everybody. It’s something I will never forget,” said junior Danielle Phipps.
Once the team knew they had cleared the first big hurdle, they reined in their emotions as they faced their first opponent in the championship round, Green out of the Akron area. Green was the top team to make it into the championship round. The Pioneers lost the first two baker rounds against the Bulldogs but took the next three to win in exciting fashion.
The semi-finals against Troy went to a five-game match, with the Pioneers pulling out another victory to advance to the finals where they faced the Big Blue bowlers of Hamilton High School.
“We dropped the first game by three pins, came back to win Game 2, lost Game 3, and won game 4. In the last game, Hamilton threw six strikes in a row to win the match and the state title,” Rusty said.
With the rollercoaster that was Jonathan Alder’s experience at state, the top priority, Kadie said, was making sure everyone kept their cool from round to round and frame to frame.
“I’m really proud of how everyone kept themselves collected through stressful situations,” she said. “Each person’s morale affects everybody else’s morale. It was nice to know your teammates had your back.”
“We came together when we needed it,” Danielle said. “We knew we had to pick each other up, rely on our practicing, rely on our coaching–that’s what ultimately got us to the finals.”
About the experience overall, Danielle added, “It was fun being around so much other talent. Since we have so many seniors, it was amazing to have that experience with them.”
The Pioneers ended their regular season with a 16-0 record in the league and a 17-1 record overall. They were league and sectional champs and finished second at district behind two-time defending state champion Gahanna Lincoln. Danielle was a silver medalist at district. At state, she bowled a 571 series to tie for 14th place in the individual standings and earn Honorable Mention All-Ohio honors.
Even though the program is losing five seniors to graduation this year, the coaches are excited about 2023.
“We think next year we can be nearly as good, with Danielle being one of the best in the state,” Rusty said. “We have a really good chance to have a good year next year.”
While their regular season and run up to and through the state tournament is over, the 2022 Pioneers aren’t done quite yet.
“We’re looking at putting some things together to take the girls to the high school nationals in Louisville, Ky., on June 18,” Rusty said, adding that a fundraiser is in the works.
Jonathan Alder’s finish at state makes them eligible to participate at the U.S. High School Bowling National Championship, a competition organized by the U.S. High School Bowling Foundation.