A year ago at this time, the Leavenworth High bowling program embarked on a season they hoped would see the boys make it back to the Class 5A state finals and the girls find a way to compete with a vastly inexperienced roster.
Yet, when the final pin fell on the 2016 season, the Pioneers saw not only another state run by the boys, but the girls. Led by a few veterans and a determined group of new bowlers, the girls also advanced to the campaign’s final weekend in Wichita.
Coming off a historic double visit to the state finals, the Pioneers entered the new campaign with even higher expectations.
The season officially began Tuesday when Leavenworth played host to Piper and Mill Valley at Crown Lanes. The varsity girls opened with a 120-pin victory led by Lena Humble (529) and Leilani Murawski (488) who finished 1-2 in the overall standings.
The Pioneer boys followed suit with a 42-pin victory over Piper with Mill Valley a distant third. Billy O’Donnell (719) won the individual competition by eight pins and D’Marco Rabe (609) finished in fifth.
“I would love to say that we could make it back again,” LVHS head coach Shad Langfoss said. “We have pretty much all of our boys’ team back and the same with our girls’ team. If things go the way they should I think both teams have a chance to qualify for state. Regionals will be about the same as last year.
“I hope we can bowl better than (Tuesday) and if we do, the boys will go to state and the girls will have an excellent chance.”
Langfoss added that even if a team missed out on state that he would expect individual representation from the team to go to state.
The experience of going to state can only help.
“You always want to go to state, but once you are there, you always want to bowl your best,” Langfoss said. “I don’t think some realize that it’s not just a regular tournament. It’s a tournament with the best bowlers from the state. You can not bowl your regular best, but the best you can. If we can be there at the last day at state, I would be happiest.”
The Pioneers finished eighth out of 12 teams at state, while the girls ended up 12th.
“With the girls, I know we have our top five returners that went to state last year,” Langfoss said. “With the boys we have five out of six coming back also. So I know the girls have that one year of experience under their belt and once they know they can qualify for state, it makes it a lot easier once they realize that we can go together as a team.
“The boys would qualify for the fourth year in a row with the same core. Last year was our highest finish and hopefully if we go this year I’d like us to at least medal and get the top three.”
O’Donnell is the leader of the boys and has experienced a strong run in the alleys and he believes the team has come a long way.
“I think the team has a lot more,” O’Donnell said. “D’Marco has gotten a lot better, we have the same team pretty much as last year. Our team should be pretty strong going in.
“I feel like I’ve improved over the summer and a lot of our guys too. We are pretty much experienced, all across the board, better averages.”
Dalton Watkins is a senior who also believes the boys have put in the time.
“I know varsity was always practicing and putting the time here (Crown Lanes) and putting in the work,” Watkins said. “We seem more confident. (Tuesday) no one seemed really nervous. Last year at our first meet there were people who looked worried about it, but this year we are a lot more confident.”
As for Murawski and the girls’ team, she recalled her nerves about the team a year ago and her jubilation over their ability to get to state.
“I was so shocked and after regionals I started crying,” Murawksi said. “It was a huge deal and I was so proud of them because they all worked so hard to try and get there. No one ever thinks highly of us, because we have always been on the lower side of things, but they really stepped it up and put their first foot forward.
“We have a ton of new girls coming out and asking for advice and help. The people who own the bowling alley have told me about kids coming in and working hard and getting new balls.”
The experience of going to state has changed Murawski’s worries about the team even being able to compete to now taking their game to a higher level.
“They now know they have the capability of doing it and are trying 10 times higher,” she said. “I’ve seen all the girls working in the offseason. It’s a self-esteem booster. When everyone puts us down all the time and we showed up, it showed something. I think it would be great if we can go and show what we have and do something at state that we are capable and show more.”
Humble, a junior, started the season strong and is also buoyed by the program’s newfound successes.
“It was more about us wanting to prove ourselves,” Humble said. “We are not seen in the light very often. So just to say we were going to stay was important. To go this year … would be amazing.
“We got along (as a team) and it helped. I am pretty comfortable with them and talk with them.”
O’Donnell is very confident the boys can do well again.
“We are most definitely going to state again this year and I think we can place way higher than we did last year,” O’Donnell said. “We have the potential. We just need a good spare game and our confidence wasn’t as high last year as this year.”
Murawski’s preseason outlook is definitely much more optimistic compared to a year ago.
“I know that our girls has the ability to go to state, it’s just us calming our nerves, keeping cool and moving on to the next ball,” Murawksi said. “That is the big thing and with our girls teams … we’re girls we have emotions and it got to us. But they showed up, they wanted it. I think we will twice as hard because we know we are capable now.
“I’m not nervous about the expectations, but the girls should not hold expectations over their heads. They should set new goals and new things they want to with their lives and not work off of the past, but to do well in the future.”