The KHSAA State Bowling Championships are a common destination for the Fleming County girls’ bowling team.
The Lady Panthers finished runner-up in the Region 8 championship on Jan. 28 to earn a berth in the championship for the seventh time in eight years, while junior Morgan Napier claimed the Region 8 individual title and will also compete in the singles tournament.
“It’s a combination of everything. Just like every other sport, you have to have the heart to get in there in do this. Gary Shannon is the head coach. I coach the girls, but Gary is the overall head coach. We coach these kids like any other coach would coach their team,” said Fleming County girls’ bowling coach Jerry Dixon. “It takes talent to do this. It’s a mental sport more than a physical sport. These kids have done phenomenal this year.”
In the singles competition, each bowler bowls three games and has the scores added together. The top eight bowl two additional games, and the bowlers with the top four combined scores from the five rounds will enter a stepladder final.
Napier posted a 531 after three rounds at the Region 8 tournament, before bowling a 211 and a 132 in the next two games to finish with a five-game total of 874 – the third best score. She topped East Jessamine’s Jessica Doolin, 202-157, in her first match of the stepladder final, before knocking off Corbin’s Taylor Petrey, 149-138, in the semifinal and Madison Central’s Madison Roberts, 190-175, for the title.
“Morgan has got a good shot. She’s an excellent bowler. She has, I think, a 194 average this year overall. Morgan is a pretty strong bowler,” said Dixon. I think she’s got a good shot of winning this, but any given day – bowling is a mental sport, so anything can happen. Morgan is an excellent bowler. She’s level-headed, stays calm and has a real good shot at it.”
Fleming County will also have two competing in the unified state championship to start Thursday’s events. Jonathan Prewitt and Zach Baldwin finished runner-up in the region competition to earn a berth at Thursday’s state tournament. It’s the second year the KHSAA is offering unified bowling.
“I’m so glad they’re doing this unified now,” said Dixon. “It’s going to grow and it’s going to get bigger.”
The top four bowlers individually advance to the state tournament, which will take place on Thursday at Executive Strike & Spare in Louisville. The singles competition is scheduled to begin at 11:25 a.m.
In the team tournament, the teams bowl one game with two teams of four bowlers and drop the low score on each lane. A six-bowler total is then used to seed teams into a bracket. After being placed on the bracket, teams will compete in baker matches – a match in which bowlers on each team take turns bowling frames – and the first to win three games advances.
Fleming County earned a No. 2 seed in the Region 8 tournament and received a bye in the first round. They beat Garrard County in the quarterfinals, 3-1 (153-120, 195-116, 135-151, 214-139), and East Jessamine in the semifinals, 3-0 (160-137, 175-134, 137-119), before falling to Corbin in the championship.
According to Dixon, 19 girls tried out for the team at the beginning of the year. That number was cut to 15, then cut to 12 for the regional tournament. Dixon and assistant coach Crystal Ruark, who also handles public relations and fundraising, led the team to a 12-2 record during the season.
Dixon narrows down his group to five for matches by taking the highest season averages. On Friday, his starting group, in order, will be Andrea Ruark, Ashley Hunt, Maya Coleman, Cayla McFarland and Morgan Napier. If any substitutes are needed, it’ll come down to who was bowling the best in practice rounds.
Outside of the top five, the Lady Panthers consist of Tabitha Abner, Olivia Cooley, Grace Ellis, Sydney Emmons, Hannah Humphries, Krissy Sawka and Bryna Wallingford.
“The other bowlers, the substitutes, I look at them – they all get to practice – whoever is throwing the best ball will be my sixth man if I have to substitute,” said Dixon.
The top-two teams in each region advance to the team state championship, which is scheduled for Friday at 8:20 a.m. in Louisville.
Last year the Lady Panthers finished seventh, falling to eventual state runner-up Harrison County. Reaching the state championship is an accomplishment Dixon is pleased with, but he’s hoping they can make a run for the title.
“In my opinion, if they get to the state tournament, that’s a big success to me, that’s a big plus for me, and it is for them too,” said Dixon. “That gives them the incentive to go on, and they have a good shot at winning this thing. We shoot for region first. Their goals are set a little higher now and they know what they have to do.”