A different format greeted the Rhinelander area club bowling teams last weekend when they started their season with a trip to North Star Lanes in Antigo.
The Hodag boys' and girls' high school squads were only bowling for score and individual statistics Sunday as part of a new way of structuring the season in District 9 of the Wisconsin High School Bowling Club.
The Rhinelander/Three Lakes boys got off to a strong start, averaging more than 181 pins per game, while the Rhinelander/Elcho girls checked at just under 140 pins per game in their nine-game baker series.
"Overall, we feel it was a decent day for the first meet. We got a few jitters out," coach Mike Bourcier said.
In the past, the Hodags would have bowled against another team, but that was not the case Sunday in one of four non-conference meets in this year's District 9 schedule. In a revamp of how teams qualify the year-end state meet, only five of the district's nine matches will feature the head-to-head format. The remaining matches - like the one in Antigo - only affect which individuals qualify for state as individual fill percentages from both conference and non-conference matches will determine which players head to Weston for the state meet in March.
Bourcier said the format created a more relaxed atmosphere as his teams were able to focus more on their own games Sunday instead of trying to beat another team.
"We weren't as concerned with their scores," he said. "It was more of telling your bowlers, 'If you want to make it to state as an individual, you still have to give it all you have.'"
A number of the bowlers on the Hodag boys' squad got off to a strong start in that regard. Four of the six bowlers on the roster filled at least 78 percent of their frames, led by senior Calvin Schneider, who was 15 of 16 on the day with 10 strikes and one single open in the fifth frame of Game 6.
"He missed a 10 pin," Bourcier explained. "He just got a little quick and pitched it out there. Otherwise he had a real solid performance, throwing lots of strikes. One open out of 16 frames was really good."
Jeremiah Braun also got off to a strong start, going 12 of 14 with seven strikes.
"He threw a number of strikes and was making some strides forward," Bourcier said. "I was really impressed with his bowling. He was making the right moves. I'd tell him where to go and he was throwing the ball the way he needed to."
Sophomore Kody Litzen was 13 of 16 on the day with six strikes, Cody Bednarz went 11 of 14 with five strikes, Jacob Wager was 11 of 16 with seven strikes and senior Eric Jones, in his first season of high school bowling, was 7 of 14 with a pair of strikes.
The Hodags boys were consistent in their nine games, with a high of 204 in Game 7 and a low of 152 in Game 4. The team finished at 180 or better in six of its nine games.
"It was a good showing for the boys this weekend," Bourcier said. "I feel real confident going into the season with this (team). I feel they would have easily won their match if they were bowling a team. There were only a couple of 200s and a lot of 140, 150 and 160 games out there. I was very impressed with them."
Rhinelander's top three bowlers on the girls' side also started well.
Sophomore Bella Walkowski came out with an impressive start on Sunday, filling 15 of her 18 frames with seven strikes.
"Our biggest star was Bella with the seven strikes and eight spares," Bourcier said. "(Assistant coach) Kevin (Litzen) said she was just on, just picking up her spares, staying smooth and consistent. We've been working on keeping her shoulders a little more level. She's been dropping the right shoulder too much in practice. We've been working on that and (on Sunday) she was doing a lot better, was rolling the ball really well and it showed."
Junior Katrina Blasius matched Walkowski with 15 fills and seven strikes in 18 frames. Junior Mackenzie Bourcier, who made the second round of last year's WiHSBC state singles meet, was 14 of 18 on the day with five strikes.
Senior Alexis Kriesel was 8 of 18 with three strikes and first-year bowler Paige Bailey rounded out the squad with one fill in 18 frames.
The Hodags ended with a high game of 152 in the ninth game.
Their low game was 117 in Game 7.
"You look at their score, they averaged 140 for the day. I know that's going to go up once we get Paige settled down," Mike Bourcier said. "Overall we were fairly consistent except for that 117 game. We can get that up, get Alexis cleaner, work on Paige and the other three stay there, they're going to have a good, solid team."
The squads first matchups against opposing teams will take place Nov. 17 when they bowl two matches each at Dale's Weston Lanes in the first of five conference meets over the course of the season.
"We're back to practice on Wednesday to work on some of the things we've got to try to clean up. We've got four more practice before our next meet Nov. 17 at Weston," coach Bourcier said.
Middle schoolers fall to Marshfield
While Sunday's meet was a non-conference competition for the high school contingent, it did count as the first middle school conference dual meet in the District 9 season.
The Rhinelander co-ed squad lost to Marshfield 6-3 in the opening match.
The Hodags (0-1) won games with their three highest scores in the nine-game series, taking Game 3 145-105, Game 5 132-127 and Game 9 137-105.
Overall, Rhinelander averaged just less than 110 pins per game in the match.
"Overall, I think they gelling really well together and that's really what middle school is (about) - have fun, learn some of the stuff but don't put too much pressure on that you've got to win," Bourcier said. "They want to win, don't get me wrong. They do want to win. Marshfield has a very strong middle school team. We had some bright moments. We averaged 110. I'd like to get that up to about 125, 130 and I think we will. We've just got to clean things up a little bit."
Calvin Welch finished with nine fills and two strikes over 18 frames to lead the team. Payton McCue, Johanna Dellenbach and Alex Hall all had five fills. Blake Klingen had three fills.
The middle school squad will also bowl in Weston Nov. 17.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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