The rules allow high school bowling teams to bring seven bowlers to major tournaments.
Black Hills coach Nicole Pocklington didn’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind. Wolves had just six bowlers. They were enough.
Led by three of the first eight individual finalists, Black Hills won the 1A/2A State Championship last weekend at the Narrows Plaza Bowl in Tacoma with a total of 5,126.
Kaitlynn Gwinn was Wolves’ best individual in third place while senior Hallie Stuart, who won the individual title as a second year, finished seventh and Zoey Theophilus eighth.
Piper Chalmers of WF West was the individual champion with a score of 900 in four games.
Pocklington believed his team’s lack of depth was made up for by experience.
“We had a really strong bowling roster that I’ve had for three or four years,” she said of a team that also included Kaylene Hall, Dana Culley and Bella Brady. “This is the first group I’ve been able to coach since freshman year.”
The bowlers, who managed to avoid any critical absences caused by COVID-19, found the compact group a plus.
“A lot of us have been together for many years,” said Theophilus, a junior who followed her sister MacKenzie, now one of the top players on the Grand Canyon University team, into the sport. “The small team brought us closer together.”
“We are all good friends. We do a lot of things together outside of bowling,” she said. “When we got together to bowl, we were really able to work together to achieve our goals.”
Stuart pointed out that the players could get more one-on-one with Pocklington. If they needed additional coaching. Luckily, Stuart and Pocklington are sisters, which she said she enjoys.
“That was cool,” Stuart said. “It’s good that my coach is someone I’ve known for a long time and not just some random person.”
Pocklington appreciated his sister’s resume and her efforts throughout the story.
“Winning sophomore state really boosted Hallie’s confidence as a baby bowler,” she said. “Her junior and senior years, she really established herself as a leader. We could always count on her.
As the Columbia River runner-up breathed down Wolves’ necks in the final game of the state’s Baker games, where five bowlers from each team bowled a frame in order, Stuart landed bowling strikes on his three last bullets.
“It was a great way to end his high school career,” Pocklington said.
Stuart relished the chance to return to the podium on a winning team.
“The fact that I got the ‘state champion’ name probably made the rest of the team say, ‘hey, we want to do this too,'” she said. “It was a crazy feeling. when I won in second grade. Now I can say I’m a two-time state champion.
Gwinn, who led the way this season, improved in each of his four individual games at state.
“Just had a really good day,” she said. “I made my adjustments well.”
Theophilus, also an all-conference softball pitcher, appreciated how Wolves stepped onto the bigger stage.
“We didn’t have a great time at Districts, but we really wanted to be the first Black Hills team to win a state bowling championship.”
Interestingly, the biggest problem going forward will be replacing Wolves’ veteran squad with people who are still unknown. Pocklington now teaches at River Ridge, limiting his chances of recruiting on campus during the day.
Stuart, who plans to attend South Puget Sound Community College, will help out as a volunteer team manager and hopes to attract players to the program.
Meanwhile, Wolves weren’t the only local school to excel at state bowling.
In 4A, Olympia finished second behind Skyview as Brooke Johnson finished sixth individually and Sawyer Jones eighth.
In 3A, Capital finished sixth and North Thurston eighth. The top individual finisher in the South Sound Conference was Timberline’s Courtney Cahill in fourth. Capital’s Melanie Nguyen was seventh and North Thurston’s Novalee Robinson eighth.