Young teams provide firm foundation
The Shawnee Mission Northwest bowling squads entered the 2007 season with a plentiful supply of one thing -- youth.
And though sometimes freshman bowlers are prone to bowl like, well, freshmen, the learning curve for these athletes (and their sophomore teammates) is often one of the more pleasant things to watch over a long season.
Cougars coach Britt Haney watched both his boys and girls squads emerge from the 2007 season a smarter and more skilled team than they had been in January and the squad's 2007 campaign has left the coach itching for next season.
"I'm excited," Haney said. "I wish next year started in two weeks."
Haney's excitement has as much to do with the youth of his team and their ceiling for improvement as it does the way his bowlers ended the year.
On the boys' side, sophomore Alex Bates powered his way to a 17th place finish out of 72 bowlers at the 6A State Championship meet in Lawrence with a better than 200 average over three games. Bates battled difficult lane conditions to earn a state medal at the meet in Lawrence.
"The conditions were really tough," Haney said. "A lot of kids really struggled to get their groove on."
According to Haney, Bates' day at state was good, but had the potential to be even better.
"It was one of those Murphy's Law things," Haney said. "On days you have the most strikes ----you have the most misses. Alex is usually a good spare guy, but he was bowling so well on his first balls that he kind of lost concentration on the second."
Still, Haney says Bates' efforts are not to be discounted.
"Alex medaled in all three major meets -- league, regionals, state," Haney said. "That's not too bad. If you look in the KC area there were only five or six guys who were able to do that. The good thing about Alex is he's only been bowling two years."
The boys team will benefit from two more years of Bates' leadership as well as two more years from fellow sophomore Quinton Nicolace and three more years from freshman Nick Michalski. Those three were the Cougar boys' top three bowlers with Bates compiling a 194 average, Nicolace a 183, and Michalski a 182.
"Nick was kind of our high-low bowler," Haney said. "When he's locked in he's on fire. It'll be exciting to watch him grow."
Northwest will also return its other top bowlers in juniors Dalton Hawkins and Nathan Highland.
But the boys team was more than just high rollers. Haney mentioned one team member in particular whose work ethic he hopes his team will emulate.
"The feel good story of the year was probably Travis Knoll," Haney said. "He made the team after doing basketball and wrestling as winter sports in previous years. On February 1st his average was 130 a game. We got him to put his thumb in the ball and I really was on him about it. I told him it would probably take 10 games for him to get used it. He kept at it and in his last four matches his average was over 190."
The girls team also entered the 2007 season with a wealth of youth but perhaps even less experience than the boys. Haney knew his girls squad would have to battle for respect and the regular season turned out as rough as expected, but all those early struggles began to pay off late in the season as the SMNW girls began to surprise. First, picked to finish last in the league tournament, the girls pushed their way up to 10th out of 12 teams. Then, in perhaps the highlight of the Lady Cougars' season, Northwest took second out of five squads at the Shawnee Mission Tournament before finishing up with a sixth-place finish at regionals. The team's two highest series of the year occurred in its last two meets. Sophomore Kelly Cole gave credence to the girls' improvement by qualifying for state at regionals.
Freshman Laura Highland led the girls side with a 154 average while junior Krista Rollins had her average into the 140s by the end of the season. Fellow junior Kelli Ayars improved her average from 116 to 137.
To go with the combined team improvement, Haney is now looking for a solid leader who has the ability to post big numbers at every meet the girls attend.
"We're really lacking that superstar," Haney said. "Definitely when we go into meets we've got to look at all four or five kids bowling well. That started to happen at the end of the year. The girls kept their heads up."