First to Bowl, First to Win
Hartford Earns Inaugural VPA Title
Hartford senior Jillian Bushor bowls during yesterday’s VPA championship meet at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor junior Nik Osborn focuses before he bowls yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton junior Callie Wuttke, center left, walks with her teammates to their lane to compete at yesterday’s VPA bowling championship at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford junior Owen Connor gets ready to release the ball yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — As two of the pioneering programs for Vermont high school bowling, it was only appropriate that Hartford and Randolph squared off in the finals of the inaugural VPA team championships yesterday at Upper Valley Lanes & Games.
With a clean sweep of the Galloping Ghosts, Hartford earned the distinction of being not only one of the state’s first teams, but also its first champion.
In the best-of-seven, Baker-style final, the Hurricanes prevailed by scores of 135-104; 195-127; 186-128 and 172-147. The final three rounds’ scores were all higher than Hartford’s season average as the Canes truly saved their best for last.
Hartford was ranked No. 2 in the nine-team tournament; Randolph was No. 1.
“Just an outstanding day from our kids,” said Hurricanes coach Mark Hamilton, who helped found the program as a club sport two years ago and worked to get it approved as a two-year VPA exhibition sport beginning this year. “It was truly a team effort. Bowling is looked at as an individual sport, but as you could see today, it was about team, and the kids understood that.”
With five players rolling two frames per game, the single elimination tourney began with No. 8 Lyndon’s 4-1 win over No. 9 Brattleboro in a play-in round.
Randolph beat Lyndon 4-2 in the quarters and Rivendell in the semis, 4-2. The fifth-ranked Raptors beat No. 4 Twinfield in the quarters, 4-1.
Also in the quarters, No. 3 Windsor beat No. 6 South Royalton 4-2, while Hartford swept No. 7 Oxbow, setting up a showdown between Windsor and Hartford in the semis.
The Yellowjackets had beaten the Canes in the season-opening Kickoff Classic in December and won the first game yesterday, but Hartford won four of the next five for the 4-2 win.
“I think after that (first-game loss to Windsor), we saw that we weren’t unbeatable and that we had to keep working hard,” said Hartford junior Owen Connor. “We knew Windsor was a good team.”
The Jacks were noticeably disappointed after the loss, though they were happy with a strong first season overall. Some of Windsor’s players will be back at UVLG on Saturday for the individual championships, which feature the top 64 bowlers in the state split into two flights.
“We were just off our game a little,” Yellowjackets coach Steve Bly said. “We had too many splits and not enough spares. When you start leaving pins out there, they can add up quick.”
Junior Matt Thayer led Windsor with eight strikes.
For Hartford, senior Ben Currier marked — knocked down every pin — in 20 of 26 frames while converting 16 strikes and nine spares. Junior Ethan White had 11 strikes and 10 spares, while senior Jillian Bushor marked in 22 frames, with nine strikes and 13 spares.
“I was really proud of our seniors today; it was their match,” said Hamilton. “They’ve been with us since the beginning, when it was just a few of us coming out to play. Now this is where we are and it’s because of them.”
Randolph had its poorest match of the day in the final, averaging just 126.5 after posting much higher scores throughout the day.
Randolph held a lead after five frames in the final game, but the first three games weren’t close.
“I think it was nerves more than anything,” said Randolph coach Jim Comette. “We have a young team and Hartford’s real good, so that didn’t work in our favor.”
VPA director of student activities Bob Johnson and Hartford athletic director Joe James issued runner-up medals to the Galloping Ghosts and presented Hartford with the VPA trophy.
Administrators feel bowling will likely become a sanctioned varsity sport after the two-year exhibition cycle ends following next winter. The sport has nine teams, with two more in South Burlington and Enosburg on tap to join next season, according to Hamilton.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of teams join over the next couple years,” the Hartford coach said. “Once teams started joining in the Burlington area and other places, there will be kids from other schools that will see them and wonder why their school doesn’t have a team. Right now we’re like the new toy that not everybody knows about yet, but we’re getting more and more popular.”
After next week’s individual championships, UVLG on March 9 will host the first Twin State Roll Off, a match pitting the top 10 seniors from Vermont against a similar field from New Hampshire.
The NHIAA has sanctioned bowling as a varsity sport since 2009, and Kearsarge athletic director Scott Fitzgerald, who had the same position with Stevens High when the league began, is the chairman of the bowling committee in the Granite State.
“Scott has been a great help during the process; he’s going to come help us run our individual tournament next week,” Hamilton said. “We’re really excited about the Twin State Roll Off.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.