Monday, February 12, 2024 | 11:46 AM
For Hempfield bowling coach Robin Ross, the message to his bowlers is the same as it has ever been.
“Strikes are going to come; you have to make spares to keep yourselves in the match. If you stay on top of making your spares, we’re going to win,” Ross said.
Hempfield has done a lot of winning in the last couple of years. The boys won back-to-back WPIBL championships and the girls finished fifth, just missing last season’s playoff cut.
This year, both squads are continuing the success from past years and could bring home more hardware for the trophy case.
“We’ve been doing really good. The boys support the girls and the girls support the boys, and that’s why they bowl so well together,” Ross said.
The Spartans girls bowling team finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 and first in the WPIBL East Southeast section, claiming back-to-back section titles.
The team has the only three seniors but is led by the younger contingent and is looking to make a run in the WPIBL championships, which will be held Feb. 14-15, at AMF Belle Vernon.
Headlining the girls team is sophomore Amelia Droste, who last year as a freshman was both a Western Pa. Regional all-tournament team selection and qualified for states in the individual competition.
This year, Droste leads the section in varsity average pins per game with 215.85, a high series of 692 and is third with a 275 high game. She also placed third at the Bearcat Challenge at Saint Vincent and was the top girls individual bowler at the WCCAs last month.
Joining Droste is fellow sophomore Ashley Bensur, who leads the section with a high game of 288 and is second behind Droste in both varsity average (204.10) and high series (650).
“A lot of us have been bowling together for multiple years, which helps us,” Droste said. “I know me and Ashley have been bowling together since we were 8 years old or younger.”
Two more Lady Spartans round out the section’s top 10 in pins per game: Sophomore Lauren Naeger is eighth with a 154.15, and senior Sarah Leasure is ninth with an average of 147.71. Senior Natalie Drexler is 11th with a 135.09 average.
“I’m still pretty amazed at the girls coming up and having that hot start,” Ross said. “I was really glad to pick up the girls I did this year from the middle school. A couple of years ago I didn’t even have enough for a full team, but these last two years has helped us out tremendously.”
“We just made a lot of improvements this season,” Droste said.
“Most of our averages have increased over last year. One of our girls, Jordyn Armbrust, just started this season and she’s gotten a lot better from when she began.”
This year, the boys finished 8-2 and placed second in the East Southeast section behind Greensburg Salem, the only team to beat the Spartans, and had a chance to take first had they swept the Lions in all three games of the match.
“I was surprised how tough Greensburg Salem was this year,” junior Cam Elder said. “They were a lot tougher than what we expected, and just the whole rivalry aspect made it a tough team to lose to.”
Elder is eighth in the section with a 196.34 average, and ninth is sophomore Braylon Johnson with an average of 196.25. Braylon’s twin brother, Eli, sits 13th with an average of 188.23 and junior Josh Cayer is 14th with a 183.69.
“Cam, Josh, Eli and Braylon are all good bowlers,” Ross said. “Junior Evan Konieczka sometimes comes up with a good game. We’ve had sophomore Parker Cernuska and freshman Bradley Hoffman come up from the JV for us this season in spots. Bradley came in, and he did pretty good.”
There’s not much going wrong for the Spartans bowling program. In the Bearcat Challenge on Jan. 6, the girls team finished fourth overall and the boys placed fifth. Then, two weeks later at the WCCA bowling championships, both boys and girls placed first.
“The tournaments are set up with different oil patterns on the lanes so I feel that we had to get out of our comfort levels a little bit to make good shots,” Droste said. “It has taught us to make adjustments quickly, which I think we did in both the WCCAs and the Bearcat Challenge.”
Said Elder: “It just shows the talent and the culture we have at Hempfield bowling.”
After a successful regular season, the Spartans will remain steadfast in their philosophy heading into the WPIBL team and individual tournament
“If we stay focused and know where to throw our balls. If we can’t pick up the spares, it will just ruin our game,” Elder said.
The tournament is Feb. 21-22 at AMF Mt. Lebanon.
“We have to stay focused and continue to practice and make our spares,” Droste added.
And if the Spartans follow what Ross preaches…
“The strikes will come.”