PREP BOWLING: Rapid rise to glory for WHSWORTHINGTON — In the fall of 2008, the Worthington High School bowling team was an upstart program, learning to adjust to competing within the Minnesota High School Bowling league’s Southwest Conference for the first time. The team has learned quickly.
WORTHINGTON — In the fall of 2008, the Worthington High School bowling team was an upstart program, learning to adjust to competing within the Minnesota High School Bowling league’s Southwest Conference for the first time.
The team has learned quickly.
Currently in only its third season of existence, the WHS team secured its first conference title last Saturday in a neck-and-neck battle with New Ulm.
“It feels good,” coach Jason Johnson said. “The kids have worked hard. We knew going into the year that we would have a strong team, so we just pretty much had to compete with a couple of teams that have been yearly powerhouses in this thing, and luckily enough we came away.”
Winning so soon after entering the league is a great achievement for the team, but the victory didn’t come from out of nowhere.
The team placed third in its inaugural season, and followed that up with a second place performance last year. The trend merely continued with the team placing one rank higher again.
Making it all the way to the top has been extra special this season, since four of the six bowlers on the team are seniors.
“It feels really good, just because it’s our last year,” senior Nathan Mejia said.
The race for the conference championship came all the way down to the wire.
WHS trailed New Ulm heading into the final regular season matches on Saturday, needing to win all three of its matches to take home the title.
The team came through in the clutch, finishing the season tied with New Ulm with identical 17-4 match records. However, WHS took the title with a better record in individual games.
WHS ended the season with an impressive 14-1 run to seal the championship after a 3-3 start.
The team led the conference is each of the major statistical categories. It finished with 18,055 total pins, a 172 average, the highest team game at 244 and the highest team series at 1,044, and the highest fill percentage at 70.82 percent.
The team also had two of its members receive all-conference honors, Robbie Barrie and his brother Brady Barrie. Three other team members were worthy of the honor, but fell short of bowling enough matches to qualify.
“We would have had five kids in there if it wasn’t for participation percentage,” Robbie Barrie said.
The team will next bowl in the district championships in New Ulm tomorrow.
If the team wins tomorrow’s tournament, it will qualify for the state tournament. If it loses, it will still have a chance to make the state tournament, but will have to play a state qualifier first.
“We’re hoping to come out and win districts and then just go straight to the state tournament,” Johnson said.
The team’s hot streak to end the season has given the team members a lot of confidence heading into the district championships.
“We have momentum going in,” Barrie said. We know we can go in there and dominate. It’s always nice having momentum going in. We just can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to keep this in front of us.”
Also playing in the favor of the team is the fact that all six team members have bowled together ever since they all first picked up a bowling ball.
“It’s always been fun,” Mejia said. “I’ve been bowling with these kids ever since I was little. We’ve all improved together and bowled really good together as a team.”
The team is more of one big family than a sporting outfit.
Johnson has a son on the team, Dalton Johnson, and coach Phil Barrie has two sons on the team, Robbie Barrie and Brady Barrie. The younger Johnson is also cousins with Mejia and Anthony Timmerman.
Although Brooke Luing is the only team member without a relative on the team, she still feels included in the family atmosphere.
“Since I’m the only girl, I kind of feel like I’ve been their moms for the past three years,” Luing said.
It was Coach Johnson and Coach Barrie that initially started the team. All of the current team members have been on the team all four years.
Before the team started, all of the team members had bowled together in a Saturday morning league, but the formation of the team gave them the chance to compete in different circumstances.
“I guess we were all pretty excited to actually go out and bowl against other people for a change,” Mejia said.
However, once the four seniors graduate the future of the team will become uncertain.
“It’s going to be a struggle to find (new members), because there’s not that many kids doing it,” Phil Barrie said. “There’s so many activities going on on Saturdays - a lot of kids play Y basketball. The ones that are left may have to join on with another team if they want to continue to do it. They get along well with all the kids, so it wouldn’t be hard for them to get in on another team and fit right in.”
However daunting the prospects may seem for next year, the team has to finish out this season first.
If the team makes it to the state championships, it will be bowling against some of the best teams in the country.
The state has a total of 138 teams spread over 20 conferences. WHS placed is ranked 19th overall, but the team knows that to come away with a top finish in the state tournament is no easy feat.
“I think we could compete, but if we walked out in the top 10 that would be saying something,” Jason Johnson said.
No matter the eventual result of the season or the team’s future next year, the team is relishing having its most successful season ever, and is just hoping to prolong the season as long as possible.
“We want to go out there and go as far as we can,” Mejia said.