By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
Only a select handful of the top male and female prep bowlers from throughout the commonwealth are good enough to qualify for the Pennsylvania State High School Bowling Championships.
Several bowlers from the Central Susquehanna Valley have earned that right, and they will hit the lanes this weekend as the tournament gets underway at North Versailles Bowl in Pittsburgh.
A total of 24 bowlers (12 boys/12 girls) have qualified to compete in today’s individual competition, while a combined 12 boys and girls teams will compete for a state title when those squads begin play on Saturday.
Leading the way in the individual competition is Midd-West senior Luke Zimmerman, who happens to be the second straight Mustang to make states as a regional champion. Jenna Yarger did it last year for the girls team.
“It feels awesome (to have back-to-back regional champs). We’ve had a good team the last two years and it was just a matter of time,” said Midd-West coach Roger Folk. “It’s just another feather in our caps. We got good kids and the kids are interested in bowling, and it has been good for the program.”
Folk, however, is quick not to put any expectations on Zimmerman, an owner of a 300 game earlier this season who is set to make his first appearance in the state tournament.
“We’ve talked about not having any expectations, but you do want to go there and bowl well. If Luke bowls as well as he can, he’s capable of making the step-ladder finals,” said Folk.
“If Luke can carry some good shots and make some spares, I think he can make the finals. He struggled all year long with not getting a good carry, but I think he bowled better than his average this year (201.47).
“Luke has had two good days of practice and he’s ready to go,” added Folk.
Joining Zimmerman in the singles competition are a pair of Lewisburg bowlers — sophomores Dominick Cozza and Alexis Neuer.
Cozza and Neuer both made the quarterfinals in the Eastern PA Regionals two weeks ago, and they are both appearing in the state tournament for the first time.
And although Yarger won’t be competing in the singles event this year, she and the rest of her Midd-West teammates will be one of two Valley squads in action during the team competition. Milton’s boys is the other.
Midd-West claimed the Heartland Athletic Conference title this season, but in order to get ready for states the Mustangs are going back to basics.
“We’re going back to square one. We need to bowl well as a team,” said Folk. “I thought we had a good chance to win the league title, and we bowled as a team all year long.
“Different people have stepped up for us at different times this year, and our spare shooting was better than it was in the past,” added Folk.
The inclusion of Yarger, a senior, will only help the Mustangs this weekend — especially when none of the other bowlers on the team have been to states before.
Seniors Cheyenne Ruble and Deanna Witkowski, plus juniors Beth Longer and Carlie Delong, join sophomore Courtney Catlin and freshman Laura Hartley to complete Midd-West’s team.
“Having Jenna there will help relax the girls and settle their nerves a little,” said Folk. “Jenna doesn’t say a whole lot — she just leads by example and her being there with her experience will help.”
Milton’s boys have tons of experience when it comes to bowling in the postseason and at states.
Last season the Black Panthers finished as the seventh-best team in the state after they missed the four-team baker finals by just 169 pins.
Milton previously made the state tournament in 2010, while also finishing among the top 10 teams in the east in each of the previous four years.
Senior Mark Artley was named an Eastern Regional All-Star two weeks ago for the Black Panthers after he tied for high-game honors with a 279 along with teammate Austin Leon. He also rolled a 714 series that was good for fifth-best in the tournament.
Both scores for Artley came while he was competing with the Black Panthers in the team competition.
Bowling along with Artley and Leon, a freshman, for Milton this weekend are seniors Bryan Brennan and Jeff Levitan, plus juniors Colby Reichenbach and Sheldon Leon, and sophomore Justin Crawford.