VERSAILLES – Competing at state for a fourth consecutive year, the seniors of the Versailles boys bowling team are focused on finishing their high school careers with a strong performance.
Seniors Kyle Cotner, Alex Groff, Brody Hyre, Aydan Moran and Jacob Wenig lead the Tigers and are joined by junior Luke Shellhaas, junior Brandon Bradley and sophomore Quayd Pearson. Having made the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament four years in a row, Versailles expects its experience to be a big factor in Saturday’s Division II state meet.
“Experience is going to play a big factor,” Coach Tyler Phlipot said. “They’ve been there. They know what to expect. They know the atmosphere. They’re familiar with the bowling center. So I think the experience of being there is going to be a good plus for us.”
Cotner and Groff are the team’s most experienced bowlers as they’ve competed at state all four years of their high school careers. Hyre and Wenig are competing for a third consecutive year while Moran is back for his second state competition.
Having strong upperclassmen will be key to Versailles’ success this year, Cotner said, just like it was in 2014 and 2015 when the Tigers finished fourth in the state tournament.
“I feel like freshman and sophomore year we had a lot of really strong upperclassmen, and then a lot of them left,” Cotner said. “So last year we were still pretty young as a team, and this year I feel our chances of going to the semifinals and possibly the finals is a lot stronger than it has been, especially last year.”
Last year Versailles finished 13th out of 16 teams in the state tournament. After back-to-back years of reaching the state semifinals, it was a disappointing way to end the season.
“Since this year we have most of the returning bowlers from last year, it means a lot to be push through sectionals and districts and achieve our goal and hopefully work on what we had last year and finish a lot higher, preferably first,” Wenig said.
It’s a great accomplishment to qualify for state four years in a row, but the Tigers aren’t satisfied quite yet. A state championship would be the perfect way to cap off their high school careers.
“It was nice to be there the past few years, but I think if we can actually bring home some good hardware this year that would be great,” Groff said.
Versailles had some ups and downs as it battled to make it back to Columbus. The Tigers went 7-4 during the West Ohio High School Bowling Conference regular season, finished eighth in the OHSAA sectional meet and then finished as the district runner up.
“It’s been a roller coaster year for the boys,” Coach Phlipot said. “We went through a lot of downs, and they just never gave up. They just kept working hard, and this shows a lot about what kind of group they are. They’re a bunch of hard workers.”
When the Tigers are on their game, they can compete with anyone, Phlipot said. As long as they finish in the top eight in the first part of Saturday’s competition and make the bracketed playoffs, he said, they have a realistic shot at competing for a championship.
“I think we can do real well,” the Versailles coach said. “I think that as long as we pick our spares up like we did last week, keep a good attitude, I think we can do fairly well. The last two weeks shows that we can hang with anybody. We hung with Coldwater during the regular season. We can hang with the big guys. We just have to get over that hump and pick up a couple extra spares to get us over that hump.”
With this being the final time the five seniors will get to compete together, they want to make sure they go out as strong as possible.
“I really want to perform really well this year knowing that I don’t have another chance to come back,” Hyre said. “I’ve kind of got a little more into gear this year.”
The seniors have built strong bonds in and out of competition so they’re cherishing this last match together.
“We’ve kind of been friends for a while now and it’s just kind of going to be great to see them all bowl one more time,” Moran said.
The Versailles boys will compete at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl in Columbus.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.