Anita Carlson talks about how lonely it is to qualify for the state bowling meet as an individual, how much nicer it is to go with a team.
Carlson, Free State High’s bowling coach, has sent teams of boys bowlers to state, but she’s also seen the other side, when her girls only qualified as solo acts during her four years in charge.
This year, the state trip to Wichita could get a lot more crowded for everyone.
“These girls have an excellent shot at getting a state berth,” Carlson said of her Firebird team. “If any of the years, if I had to pick the four years I’ve been doing this, this is probably the best year.”
Leading the way for the Firebird girls is Christina Picicci, who earned the No. 1 spot in tryouts, averaging a 142. Senior Lanae Spencer, who has been with the team all four seasons, will bowl at No 2. Megan Bastemeyer, Liz Love, Gretel Briand and Robin Leatherman bowled their way onto the varsity team, earning the Nos. 3 through 6 slots, respectively.
Carlson said she was working on footwork, timing, arm swing and release to get her girls team ready for the first match of the season — a journey she hopes won’t conclude until March when state begins.
For the boys, a state trip is all but expected. Aaron Bernhardt and Rob Wagner return from last year’s team that finished seventh at state. Bernhardt, a senior this season, had the highest Firebird finish a year ago, earning 22nd place, just five pins away from medaling at the state tournament.
Carlson had her bowlers roll eight games over the course of four days to determine her team’s initial lineup.
Wagner averaged out to 216 pins per game, earning Free State’s No. 1 varsity spot. Connor Kring and Joseph Vannicola will bowl at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, as both averaged over 200. Kring did not participate at state last season, but he did make the trip as an alternate. Carlson will round out her top six with Justin Walthal at No. 4, Bernhardt at No. 5 and Andrew Schoneweis at No. 6.
Carlson said her top six were averaging a combined 199 pins, a number she thinks will improve as the season progresses.
“I would say with what we’re averaging, we’re in the running for a top three finish at state,” Carlson said.
Both the Firebird girls and boys teams begin the season today with the Free State Quad at Royal Crest Lanes at 3:30 p.m.
Over on the east side, Lawrence High fields its boys and girls bowling teams with a new coach. Tom Birt takes over this year as the Lions’ leader of the lanes.
“I’m not new to bowling, but I’m new to coaching bowling,” Birt said. “It’s a lot different to have a coach’s eye than to be bowing yourself.”
Birt’s boys should have a rotation consisting of senior Tyler Bailey, sophomore Chad Boyd, and juniors Tanner Kilmer, Josh Russell and Ben Wyatt.
During tryouts, Boyd bowled a top score of 236 and is averaging 198 thus far. Kilmer averaged 191, Russell 182 and Bailey 178. Wyatt averaged a 187, but Birt noted that Wyatt was capable of bowling a 250.
“These kids have a ways to go to get consistent, and that’s really what they’re working on,” Birt said.
For the Lawrence girls, Birt named two bowlers who consistently have been at the top of the heap in practice.
Both Alexah Gudenkauf and Danielle Husted return from a Lions team that finished third at state last season, their best state finish in program history. Gudenkauf posted a 500 series at state, while Husted rolled a 433.
During tryouts this season, Husted averaged a 147 and Gudenkauf a 145. Birt noted that Husted was capable of bowling in the 180s and also was very complimentary of Gudenkauf’s talents.
“Alexah is like watching a machine,” Birt said. “She has got the fundamentals. It’s really neat to watch her because she has got this strong desire to really improve.”
Lawrence High begins its boys and girls seasons on Saturday in the Free State Invitational at Royal Crest Lanes.