In bowling, if you miss the head pin — the No. 1 pin — you’ve missed your mark.
Yet this season, the Pennfield High girls’ bowling team has been right on target.
In fact, coach Mike Roach’s squad has been so powerful, consistent, clutch and successful that, entering MHSAA Division 3 postseason regional competition this coming Friday and Saturday, the Panthers will be the ones that all of the other schools’ tenpinners will be targeting.
For the first time since the MHSAA recognized bowling as a varsity sport in 2003-04, a Cereal City program is ranked No. 1 in the state.
That would be Pennfield’s girls.
They are 15-0 overall, they’ve already clinched their second Southwest Eight Conference title in the past three seasons — having posted an 11-0 record entering their final league meet of the season against Sturgis — and they’re hungry to capture their second regional crown in school history and make it back to the state finals as a squad for the third straight time and for the fourth time in program history.
And, of course, to be No. 1 at season’s end by capturing a state championship.
“My goal for our team every year is to win a state title … and I really believe this year’s team has the ability to do just that,” said Roach, in his 10th season as Pennfield bowling program director and as a coach.
“The girls haven’t been putting up big, huge numbers all season long, and they’ve had to dig down deep to win some of their matches this season in the final frames. But they’ve just been so much more consistent overall than any of the teams we’ve had here. And we’ve had some pretty good teams.”
State title hopes
Well before the 2012-13 season began, Roach said he felt that this year’s Panther team would be even better depth-wise than his 2010-11 unit.
That unit, which won the school’s first regional championship, finished runner-up in the state in D-3 . It was also a team that featured current Vanderbilt University freshman bowling standout Olivia Wirtz, who won the MHSAA D-3 singles title that spring as a junior. And earning state D-3 coach of the year honors was Roach.
The Panthers still made it to the state finals last season out of regionals and wound up 10th as a squad — with now-graduated Bailey Tyler, along with underclassmen Loretta Hinds (regional champion) and Kira Tyler, qualifying for the state individual finals.
Hinds is now a senior and the Panthers’ captain, and is carrying a 183 average. Pennfield’s other senior is Ashlynn Horvath (160 average). The other starting-six performers are juniors Kira Tyler (161), Taylor Elwell (150) and Taylor England (150), along with sophomore Kadee Bechman (160).
“All of these kids came into the season ready to bowl, and to bowl well,”’ Roach said. “They spent a lot of time working on their games during the summer, during Saturday morning youth leagues and practicing. They put a lot of effort into bowling, and it’s been paying off for us all season long.”
Currently being ranked No. 1 in the state in D-3 by the Michigan High School Interscholastic Bowling Coaches Association is certainly a wonderful thing, Hinds said, but noted that the close-knit squad still has some unfinished business to attend to.
“It’s a really great feeling to be No. 1 right now, we’re all very proud of it, and we’ve gotten this far due to our team unity. We’re like a big family out there,” the 18-year-old Hinds said.
“But our goal is still to make it out of regionals and get to state. And once we get there, winning (the championship) will then be our goal. And we’re going to work really hard to make that happen.”
Added the 18-year-old Horvath: “Being No. 1 in the state is something we all felt we could be and should be, and we’ve done it through hard work. We all have something we need to work on in practice — maybe it’s picking up the 10-pin or the 2-pin or whatever — and then when it comes time to show up for matches, we’re really ready to show the other team what we can do. Now, we just want to win regionals and then to win state. We want to win it all.”
Past, present, future
Currently making up the Southwest Eight Conference are boys’ and girls’ teams from Pennfield, Battle Creek Central, Lakeview, Coldwater, Marshall, Sturgis and Jonesville — with the Sturgis boys being ranked No. 2 in D-2, the Coldwater boys ranked No. 8 in D-2, and the Jonesville girls ranked No. 8 in D-4.
Last season, Gull Lake’s boys out of the Kalamazoo-based Southwest Michigan Conference were ranked No. 1 in the state in D-2 heading into regionals; and back in 2007, the Lakeview boys’ team finished runner-up in the state finals to Dearborn Heights Annapolis.
But of the Battle Creek-based programs, only this year’s current Pennfield girls’ squad has earned No. 1 regular-season ranking status.
Roach said that that the Coldwater girls’ team’s tremendous four-year run a few years back — they won the then-Class B state title in 2005, D-2 state crowns in 2006 and 2007, and finished runner-up in D-2 in 2008 — gave him something to model his program after.
“What Coldwater did all those years, the amount of success they had, and what other teams from our league have accomplished over the years really demonstrates how highly the rest of the state regards our conference,” Roach said. “And those Coldwater girls’ teams, especially, gave me a lot of incentive to make them a role model for our current team.”
And now that Pennfield’s girls are sitting on the perch in D-3 — with hopes of staying there through upcoming regionals and state finals — Roach believes that bodes well for the present and future of local MHSAA bowling.
” All of the girls on this year’s team have come from behind to win matches in the 10th frame, they’re used to the pressure situations, they’ve persevered, and I think all of those things will help them come tournament time,” said Roach, whose girls’ teams have also won the past four straight All-City championships and six out of the last eight.
“All of the current success we’re having, I’m hoping that it all filters down into our middle school and grade schools. Hopefully more kids will get involved in high school bowling and take advantage of the possibility of getting college scholarships in bowling, now that college bowling keeps growing bigger and bigger each year,” added Roach. “And nothing would be better than to realize our ultimate goal of winning this year’s state championship.”