The Rhinelander-area club level high school bowling teams will not look much different this year than it has in years past, but how those teams compete for their ultimate goal - qualifying for the Wisconsin High School Bowling Club state tournament - has undergone a significant transformation.
That's the biggest change entering the 2019-20 bowling season for the Hodag keglers, who will open their season Sunday with a non-conference meet at North Star Lanes in Antigo. The team brings back virtually all of the bowlers from last year's squads and looks to improve in the WiHSBC District 9 standings.
"Going into this season, I'm feeling happy now," coach Mike Bourcier said. "I look forward to this year. I think things are going to go well."
The biggest shake up takes place involves how the Hodag bowlers will get to state as a team. The Bowling Center Association of Wisconsin, which oversees the WiHSBC, standardized the state qualifying procedures for each of the 10 WiHSBC districts.
Individual meets will not look that much different, with teams bowling against one another in one nine-game Baker matches, but the results of those matches will ultimately determine which teams move on to state. District 9 has designated five dates for conference doubleheader matches. The results will be all-or-nothing. No matter if a team wins a match 5-4 or 9-0, it will still count as only one win in its overall record. The teams with the best records in Division 1, Division 2 and Girls, following the five doubleheaders will advance to the state tournament, which will be held at Dale's Weston Lanes the first week of March.
"It's going to be interesting. It's going to be more fun actually," Bourcier said. "When you have 23 varsity and JV teams (in District 9) put together, it's going to be fun. It's going to give you more of a college atmosphere with 23 teams bowling two shifts. You're going to have full, packed houses."
The conference doubleheaders will be held in Weston Nov. 17, Merrill Dec. 15, Rhinelander Jan. 12, Marshfield Feb. 2 and Plover Feb. 5. Additionally, the league will bowl four non-conference matches - Antigo on Sunday, Wittenberg Dec. 8, Edgar Jan. 5 and Rothschild Jan. 26. These matches will not count toward team win-loss records, but will count toward each individual's season-long fill percentage ratio, which remains the criterion used to determine which individuals will bowl at the state meet.
Just as it did last year, the Rhinelander-area squad will field both a boys' squad and a girls' squad.
The boys' squad was in the running for a state berth last year under the old qualifying format of a four-round, 28-game tournament where total pinfall was used to sort the teams. It brings back four players from that squad led by senior Calvin Schneider and sophomore Kody Litzen. Jeremiah Braun and Jacob Wagler also return from last year's squad and the team's adds Cody Bednarz from the middle school team and senior Eric Jones, who is returning to bowling following a long hiatus.
"I'm pretty solid with my boys' team. Calvin returning, he's bowling really well. I look for him to make state this year," Bourcier said. "Kody Litzen, he's worked on his game and gotten smoother and better. I'm looking for him to have some good showing this year. Jeremiah bowled some more this summer. If I can get him focused, he can do it. Jacob is pretty much still the same and the addition of Cody Bednarz, he made it to middle school state. He's a pretty solid bowler, can throw a lot of strikes and can pick up spares too. We've just got to keep him focused in the mental game. Eric Jones, he doesn't throw the ball that bad, but you can tell he hasn't bowled for four years.
"I'm looking for good things. I believe the boys' team has a good shot (to make it to state)."
The girls' squad struggled for numbers last season and this year appears to be no different.
State qualifier Mackenzie Bourcier returns, as do Katrina Blasius, Bella Walkowski and Alexis Kriesel, but five bowlers are required to field a full lineup.
Coach Bourcier said the team may have filled that role this past week.
"If I didn't have a fifth girl, we'd go with four and take a zero. We've been trying friends and trying whoever to get a fifth bowler. It looks like we have one so at least we'll field a whole team," he said. "Mackenzie is bowling really well right now. Katrina's bowling well and Bella's bowling well. Alexis is doing OK."
Jeremiah Bellow and Brooke Mork are the lone seniors to graduate from last year's team.
Bourcier said he also expects to field a full middle school team again this year.
Calvin Welch, Alex Hall and Johanna Dellenbach are the holdovers from that squad. Blake Klingen and Payton McCue are the newcomers.
"Just in one week's of practice with the new ones, I've already seen a stride moving forward," Bourcier said. "I think by the end of the year, it will take most of the year, but they'll turn out to be pretty decent bowlers. We'll have a good, solid team there for this year."
The middle school schedule follows a similar format at the high school schedule, beginning Sunday in Antigo.
"It's kind of nice having a non-conference one first so you can kind of get the new kids acclimated to it and get a feeling for how it's going to go," Bourcier said.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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