When the McPherson High girls tennis team won the Class 4A state championship last fall, that meant the school had reached the magical 50 state championships standard.
The big question at that time was: how long would it take for No. 51?
That question was answered Friday.
The MHS girls bowling team won its first-ever state title at Wichita’s Northrock Lanes, joining the state title the boys won in the initial year of the program in 2008.
At the start of the year, Bullpup coach Herb Halinski told me off the record that he thought one or both of his teams could win a state championship. He proved to be prophetic.
The boys came close to making it a sweep, as they were in the hunt only to finish a commendable third to also earn a trophy for the school's burgeoning case.
So in seven years of the program, bowling has contributed two of the banners to the Roundhouse rafters. The girls’ state bowling banner will be raised in December at the 2014 Wall of Fame ceremony.
Halinski wasn’t quite sure that his girls would put it off, considering they didn’t come out the chute very strong in the first game Friday.
“The girls got off to a slow start,” he said. “I talked to (assistant coach) Tom Wann and said this was gonna be a repeat of last week at regionals as they started off slow. We talked to them individually and the nerves seemed to settle down. Once they started getting strikes and spares, it was game-on. The girls bowled a great second game and third game."
In the end, the Bullpups put up some big numbers, with three bowlers in the Top 12, but none among the elite — all just solid.
“They really supported each other all day as it was truly a team effort with Jasmine (Wann), Mayce (Nightingale) and Crystal (Nutter) shooting over 600,” Halinski said. “Makenzie (Benson) couldn't buy a strike, but still managed to shoot 560. Rhianna (Smith) and Alexis (Kieffer) struggled to start off as I think they were pretty nervous as they have never bowled on such a big and loud stage.”
Nutter and Nightingale were Nos. 9 and 10 in the individual race, while Wann closed at No. 12.
“There was a lot of competition on the girls side as we had nine girls bowl varsity throughout the season,” Halinski said. “None of them ever complained as they had the goal of winning as a team. They truly showed that they wanted what was best for the team.”
While there might be some who think all that bowlers do at practice is just roll series, there’s much more to it, Halinski said.
“I think the big key to our success this year is I implemented a new sparing system with all of the kids,” Halinski said. “The kids improved on spares all season long as they became more comfortable with it. We practiced spares every day and I just kept hearing 'why are we doing this' from them. They were told that spares is what wins championships and they believe it now."
The MHS boys, while disappointed they didn’t win it, were excited for the girls, Halinski said.
“The boys bowled the best they have all season Friday and came up just a little short, but still got a state trophy,” Halinski said. “They are all very happy even though they didn't win it and to top it off they are extremely happy that the girls did win it. Carl (Frazier) and Joel (Morey) both bowled over 700, which was their season high.”
Morey, in fact, took third overall and Frazier was seventh, including a 289 game that had given him the lead early on.
Halinski said it was a magical season since both squads did so well.
“It was a great season with both teams finishing in the Top 5 in both the Bishop Carroll and Great Plains Classic Baker tournaments (boys won Great Plains classic),” Halinski said. "I want to say that I am extremely proud of each and every one of the kids on our team as they put forth a 100 percent effort all season. We talked about being a family and supporting each other all year. I also want to thank Cliff Hutts and Starlite Lanes for all of his support they have given the team."
Also, the program wouldn't be possible without the years of service that Nettie Wann has devoted to the Starlite Lanes' youth program, which has been the launching pad for these state championships. She has given of her time throughout the years and all the bowlers are "her kids."
The Bullpups honored 12 seniors on Senior Day, with the boys' team losing four regulars. Halinski admits he'll have an inexperienced team on that side next year, but Frazier will be a good starting point.
With banner No. 51 now secure, could the MHS basketball teams possibly make it Nos. 52 and 53 this weekend in Salina?