From Shoes to Strikes: Windsor Bowler Makes Smooth Transition

  • Windsor senior Brandyn LeBarron gives freshman teammate Rayce Gilbert encouragement after they both had a bumpy points round in a four-team match in Springfield, Vt., on January 31, 2017. LeBarron said the wooden lanes at the venue caused the action of their balls to behave differently than the synthetic lanes they are used to. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor senior Brandyn LeBarron rolls during the points round in a four-team match in Springfield, Vt., on January 31, 2017. LeBarron is the only returning varsity player from last season's state championship team. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford sophomore Alexis Johnston, right, encourages her teammates during the points round of a four-team bowling match in Springfield, Vt., on January 31, 2017. The unusual Tuesday-night event was a snow date for a December match. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor senior Brandyn LeBarron talks about his passion for bowling during a break in a four-team match in Springfield, Vt., on January 31, 2017. LeBarron also throws horseshoes competitively. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2017 11:53:26 PM
Modified: 2/1/2017 9:54:10 AM

Springfield, Vt. — When he elected to join the Windsor High bowling team last year, Brandyn LeBarron thought his experience competing in horseshoes since age 10 may help with his delivery of the ball. What he didn’t envision was that bowling would soon be his favorite sport.

LeBarron, a senior, has quickly become the Yellowjackets’ highest scorer and emotional leader, each quality vital for a Jacks team that graduated the state’s top two players, Katey Comstock and Tristan McMullen, after winning the VPA championship last season for the second time in three years.

Toting an average of 189.6, LeBarron rolled 200 or better in six of 12 games this season entering Tuesday and had back-to-back career bests of 235 and 255 at Randolph two weeks ago.

A participant in a Sunday morning league at Claremont’s Maple Lanes who never passes on an opportunity for a solo practice round in his spare time, LeBarron also is excelling outside of VPA play. Last Sunday, he captured the New Hampshire State Youth Championship Tournament at Merrimack Ten Pin with final-day games of 204, 269 and 178.

His dedication was fully evident just by showing up on Tuesday, allowing Windsor to field a full varsity team against Hartford, Brattleboro and host Springfield at Up Your Alley (formerly Springfield Bowl). He’d been feeling ill all day, with nausea and a high fever. It’s as though he willed himself to feel well enough to perform.

“It’s Brandyn’s consistency and focus that really helps him,” Windsor coach Steve Bly said just prior to Tuesday night’s match. “The sport is 90 percent mental, and he knows how to get locked in.”

Delivering with a two-handed release he developed to emulate that of PBA pro Jason Belmonte, LeBarron has caught on quickly to the variances lane conditions beckon.

“I’ve got four balls, all with different hook rates,” he said during Tuesday’s warmups. “During these practice rounds, I get a feel for how oily the lanes are. The more oily they are, the more your balls are going to want to hook.”

LeBarron’s horseshoe experience goes back to elementary school, when he began joining his mother, Jennette Riendeau, in state and regional competitive circuits. He’s won the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA) Vermont state championship for his age group every year since he was 10, he said.

Bly last year was thrilled to learn someone with such a background was going to give bowling a whirl, and LeBarron’s slinging skills have carried over nicely.

“Really, (the two sports demand) the same kind of release, and it’s the same kind of goal, trying to hit your marks,” LeBarron said. “The only difference is in the approach. In bowling, you always want to have a strong approach to the line, two or three steps. In horseshoes, you don’t get that. It’s just step once and throw.”

LeBarron’s success hasn’t been enough to place the youthful Yellowjackets near the top of the VPA standings. With two freshmen amid their five varsity players, they entered Tuesday’s makeup match eighth of 12 teams.

The rookies, Grayson Frazer and Rayce Gilbert, have learned plenty from watching LeBarron’s performance and mannerisms. A vocal presence, his comments are encouraging whether a teammate is excelling or struggling.

“Nice ball, kid!” he said after Frazer rolled a strike. When Gilbert followed with a gutter ball, he responded with one of his favorite mantras. “Next ball, Rayce, next ball,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“The focus aspect is probably my favorite part of the game,” LeBarron said. “No matter if you roll a strike or a gutter ball, you can only worry about the next ball.”

Yet even LeBarron showed some frustration on Tuesday, a match exhibiting poor scores even among winning teams.

Windsor’s individual performances in the preliminary round earned the second seed in the Baker semifinals, matching the Jacks up with No. 3 Hartford for a best-of-three.

Windsor prevailed in game one, 127-102, then lost, 147-140, in game two. That set up a decisive game three, won by the Yellowjackets, 126-121.

While the victory meant a showdown with No. 1 Springfield in the final — the Cosmos also needed three games to get past No. 4 Brattleboro in the semis — Windsor faces were noticeably long after the semis.

LeBarron, who also plays first base and pitches for Windsor High’s baseball team, acknowledged that a low-scoring win in bowling doesn’t quite feel as satisfying as one on the diamond.

“When your scores are low, you just have a tendency to get down,” LeBarron said. “I try to focus on (my teammates) and not let them get too down, but it can be tough.”

The Cosmos swept to a two-game win in the final. After coming up well short in a 165-99 loss during game one, the Jacks were in position to rally during the final frames of game two but fell, 137-126, as the Cosmos, ranked third in the state, avoided an upset.

Windsor, which also carries a full junior varsity team, hopes some of its younger players will take to the game as vigorously as LeBarron. Troy McCabe, the program’s only other senior, said his teammate’s speedy progress could be hard to duplicate.

“Brandyn has developed in the game about as fast as we could have hoped,” he said. “As soon as he came on, he was throwing games in the 100s, and it wasn’t long before he was in the 200s. He’s had very quick development, and I think the younger guys are learning a lot from him.”

Hartford freshman Joey Raymond continued his strong season, rolling 199 and 223 in the preliminary rounds, the latter serving as the evening’s third-highest score.

Raymond, whose 164.4 average entering Tuesday ranked 20th among 125 Vermont high school bowlers, was coming off a 254 on Saturday at St. Johnsbury’s Gold Crown Lanes that was the second-highest in program history.

Raymond is a regular participant in United States Bowling Congress (USBC) tournaments, twice advancing out of Vermont state qualifiers, according to Hurricanes coach Ryan Hoisington.

“He’s only a freshman, but it’s his fifth year bowling competitively,” Hoisington said. “He’s been doing great for us.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.




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