Sunday Extra: Keeping the ball rolling

KENNEWICK — Since its inception in 2004, the Kennewick High School bowling team has placed first in the regional tournament five times and placed second at state three times.

With a strong core of returning varsity bowlers, Kennewick was heavily favored to win the region and be contenders for the state title, which they lost by 18 pins to Emerald Ridge last year.

More important than records and titles is the sense of team and the ability to compete. "This is a life sport," says assistant coach Tom Richardson. "Bowling’s a sport that anybody can do. Not everybody can be a gymnast. Not everybody is going to be a great baseball player or a great football player, but everybody can be a great bowler if they're willing to do it."

Veterans teach the new members the team cheer after the first practice of the season. Out of 40 girls who came out for the team, only two quit. "We have different girls," says head coach Oscar Garnica, "those who truly want to compete all the way down to those who just want to socialize, which is fine. I personally don’t mind opening it up for those girls who just want to come in here and bowl and have fun. It’s OK because I’d rather have them here than out in the streets." Nobody is cut from the team because of skill, but the top bowlers are competing for the five varsity and two alternate spots.

Assistant coach Tom Richardson works with Xiao Yai, 18, left, Aliya Kamaletdinova, 17, Gabby Garcia, 15, and Xochitl Garcia, 16, during practice. "We’re trying to coach the girls to understand the principles and basics of bowling and adapt that to their own personal style," says head coach Oscar Garnica. "And the basics is just literally how to hold a bowling ball," says Richardson. "A lot of these girls literally don’t know how to hold a bowling ball...we've literally taken girls from this season that were gutter to gutter — they threw more gutters than they knocked down pins — and worked them up to varsity this year."

Assistant coach Tom Richardson and head coach Oscar Garnica watch film of bowlers after practice and compare notes.

Karissa Shiflet, 16, left, jokes around with Megan Weir, 16, and pro shop employee Evan Nash as pro shop manager Alan Cooke, right, gets Blair Westerman, 16, sized for her ball. Every player on the team is provided with a custom-fitted ball for the duration of their high school career. Varsity players and the first J.V. team all have two to four balls.

Team managers Dakota Roeder, left, and Korey Zeller, both 15, help put away balls after practice. The two freshmen are longtime bowlers, but girls bowling is a sport for Title IX compliance at schools that offer wrestling, but not gymnastics. That means there is no boys bowling, so the two helped coach, film and handle equipment.

Charlotte Johnson, left, Karissa Shiflet, Ashlen Ayers, Emily Schroeder and Brittany Blackketter laugh while listening to a Youtube clip on a cell phone during a bus ride to Moses Lake for a match. The bus driver forbid the girls from singing on the bus, so they found other ways to entertain themselves.

Ashlen Ayers, 17, prepares to bowl in a baker during a match against Wenatchee at home while teammates Charlotte Johnson, 17, right, Dayna Bolt, 17, Karissa Shiflet, 16, and Brittany Blackketter, 17, show their support with a "power stance" that Ashlen's dad Lenny passed along to Ashlen from his baseball and football days. During the baker rounds, the team rotates through each bowler frame by frame.

"Don't ever doubt me!" yells Karissa after picking up a spare during a tie-breaker roll-off at Sunnyside. As she rolled, Brittney, right, yelled out "Oh, my God!" thinking she had thrown it too far to the left. Ashlen, left, backed up Karissa. Kennewick defeated West Valley to win the 2A/3A division and Wenatchee beat Moses Lake for the 4A. Valley lanes in Sunnyside was selected as neutral ground.

Charlotte Johnson, 17, chases head coach Oscar Garnica around the bowling alley after a match at Spare Time Lanes in Kennewick after Garnica playfully knocked over her stuffed lion "Lionel" she got as a present.

Daicee Singer, 14, left, can't help but laugh as Ashlen Ayers, 17, left, busts out her cartoonish laugh during a team dinner at Ayers' house.

Megan Weir, 16, holds up her fortune from the team lunch before the regional tournament.

Coach Oscar Garnica laughs during the regional tournament as Megan Weir, 16, left, leaves white hand prints on 17-year-old Charlotte Johnson's butt after heavily dusting them with powder from a rosin bag the bowlers use to keep their hands dry. After falling behind to Selah during league play, the Lions were surprised and upset, so all the varsity girls got matching hand prints during the break before bakers.

Assistant coach Tom Richardson, right, comforts Karissa Shiflet, 16, after the Lions placed third at regionals, failing to qualify for the state tournament after being the heavy favorites to win the region and possibly state.

Brittany Blackketter, left, and Ashlen Ayers, both 17, share a moment after the Lions placed third in the regional tournament. As the two senior varsity bowlers, the loss hit them hardest. "As a competitor and as an athlete you can’t go into anything too cocky because you will lose. Anytime you are over cocky you will lose because it’s kinda Karma comes up and bites you in the butt," said Ayers. Blackketter says she'll miss being on the same team as Ayers. “She’s like my twin 'cause we were supposed to be born on the same day, but I decided to be late, so we made something up that she was born at 11:59 and I was born at 12. I love her to death."

*Kai-Huei Yau: 509-585-7205; kyau@tricityherald.com

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