McNary bowler Cassidy Steckman prepares to send a ball down the lane at practice earlier this month. (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings)
Before the winter started, the McNary girls bowling team wasn’t sure they would be able to field a squad this season.
“The girls have had some trials and tribulations this year because they didn’t quite have the turnout that they were expecting,” McNary coach Scott Miller said.
Now, they are heading to the state tournament.
McNary’s team of Raelynn Yeomans, Natalia Valle, Cassidy Steckman, Bailey Gekeler, Rebecca Stevens, Alexis Busselle and Abby Ulveland placed third at the district meet on Sunday, January 27 at Firebird Lanes in Salem.
“We are really proud of ourselves with how far we have come,” Valle said.
Miller, along with his wife, Paula, Trisha Lunsford and Dan Kapalan all help run both the boys and girls bowling teams — though Paula Miller and Lunsford put more of a focus on the girls side.
Part of McNary’s ability to field a team was based on how they were to form a co-opt with South Salem High School and Dallas High School, who both don’t have bowling teams — Ulveland is from South Salem while Busselle and Stevens are from Dallas.
More that half of the team has never participated in competitive bowling before — Gekeler, Stevens, Busselle and Ulveland are all in their first year. But that didn’t stop them from improving and being effective over the course of the season.
“They want to learn as much as they can. Anything you tell them, they just focus and do it,” Paula Miller said.
While the Celtics exceeded expectations this season in terms of results, making the state tournament was never their main focus.
“Our number one goal for our team is to have fun,” Paula Miller said. “I think that’s what makes this all work. They love being around each other and they all get along.”
Scott Miller added: “When they start doing really well as a team, the excitement level goes way up. The body language they show is crazy.”
During tournament play, McNary competes in a five-bowler format known as “The Baker System” where each competitor rolls two frames per game (bowler one rolls the first and the sixth frames, bowler two roles the second and seventh frames, etc.).
The order is set at the beginning of the match but can be changed after the completion of each game.
McNary’s average score was only 109 coming into their final game, but the Celtics rallied for a 171 to put themselves over the edge to qualify for state.
Valle, who was bowling the 10th and final frame, ended the game with three straight strikes to give the Celtics their highest score of the season.
“I don’t know what it is, but these kids just have the ability to rally when they are behind,” Lunsford said. “They really pulled it together and they all got marks. It was so cool to see that in a high pressure moment.”
The state tournament will be held this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) at Firebird Lanes. Competition will begin at 8 a.m. on both days.
“We just want to have fun and do our best,” Steckman said. “We’re trying not to put pressure on ourselves.”
Even though the McNary boys bowling team just missed qualifying for the state tournament, Michael Valdez did, however, earn a spot in state’s All-Stars Competition.
The All-Stars Tournament features the best individual bowlers in the state based on their performances in their respective district tournaments. Points are calculated based on strikes and spares.
Valdez placed fifth in the district out of 137 competitors with 13 strikes and 16 spares.
Natalia Valle qualified for the tournament on the girls side, taking fifth out of 29 competitors with seven strikes and 12 spares.