Local prep bowlers have taken to the alleys and as usual, Champaign County has some of the most talented kids in the area.
At Urbana, Phil Baker thinks his boys could make a run at a state title after finishing fifth last season. The Hillclimbers have everybody back, including two-time CBC Bowler of the Year Luc Russell.
Blaine Arms, Kyle Schrader, Kyle Beavers and Skyler Reisinger are all back, with Taylor Armstrong and freshmen Justin Brown and Andrew Troyer rounding out the roster.
“I’ve got to work on these freshmen and try to get them ready,” Baker said. “We’ve got some high hopes. They’ve been playing together for three years now.”
The Hillclimbers made a run at the title last season, but came up a disappointing fifth.
“This should be our best run. I thought we had a chance to win the state last year,” Baker said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on shooting spares. If they pick up those spares, there’s not a lot of teams in the state that can beat us.”
On the UHS girls’ end, Coach Kurt Scott is just trying to get his bowlers healthy.
“We’re just hoping to be able to compete,” Scott said. “I’m just beat up and hoping I can muster through the season.”
Paige Stokes just had foot surgery and will be out for a while. Alyssa Cooksey is also coming off a foot surgery and is practicing.
“She’s still going through physical therapy,” Scott said. “We’ll just be doing what we can do.”
Brittany Gaver, Kayla Evans, Myea Ogden, Olivia Krieger and April Large will round out the lineup.
At Graham, the boys have several bowlers eligible to return from a squad that was 13th at the sectional tournament last year.
Jake Ward, Jordan Arnold, Nathan Evans, Matt Gullet and Billy Stagner could all be in the mix.
The girls graduated three of their top five scorers, but Abigail Ogden and Sarah Carpenter were the team’s top scorers in the postseason last season and could form one of the area’s best 1-2 combos at the top of the lineup. Stephanie Johnson and Jessica Trace are also eligible to return.
At West Liberty-Salem, the boys have a wealth of returning talent and are taking aim at a league title.
“We’re looking to challenge for the OHC again and hopefully get past sectionals to districts,” WL-S Coach Larry Searles said. “Whatever could happen from there would be great.”
The Tigers are returning seniors Brad Burt, Gage Rudasill, Justin Salyers and Reese Shafer, along with sophomores Mike Price, Treven Marchal, Troyer Hostetler and Tylar Jett.
“They’ve worked over the summer to improve, so that’s another plus that wasn’t there before,” Searles said. “Some of it’s attitude. A couple of them actually enlisted into the Army National Guard.”
Searles said that experience has rubbed off on the rest of the team and made them more willing to fight through adversity.
On the girls’ side, the Tigers will feature Rachel Larson, Taylor Loverde, Hailee Clifford and Erica McCall. Lauren Hostetler and Sarah Dalton will crack the rotation. Olivia Jacquemart, Ashlayn Parks, Hailey Duncan and Jillian Kirkham will all compete for playing time.
“I’ll end up rotating some of them through,” WL-S Coach Jeremy Ryan said. “Bowling is one of those sports. This year is probably going to be one of the roughest – we’re going to teach the basics. We’re going to start working on the more intricate things once we get through that.”
Loverde and McCall are serving as the focal points of the squad, offering the leadership that comes from three years of experience.
“I expect big things from them, because they work hard and they care about it,” Ryan said. “I think if any coach didn’t say they want their team at the state meet, they’d be silly. I would like to see us at least get to districts and then see individuals or a team advance to state.”
And how will the Tigers accomplish that feat?
“Getting them focused in on the positive aspects of the game,” Ryan said. “It’s not unattainable.”
At Mechanicsburg, the boys have Caleb Westfall, Ross Parsons, Preston Estep, Jake Ripley, Peyton O’laughlin and Cody Minor working for playing time.
The girls should be strong again, with Katie Bush, Ally Hosier and Michaela Edwards returning with state experience, along with Miranda Keene and Jenna Alspaugh.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller