VERSAILLES – For the first time in school history the Versailles boys and girls bowling teams have qualified for the state tournament in the same season.
The Versailles boys are making their third consecutive trip to the state tournament after reaching the state semifinals the past two years. The girls are returning to state for the first time since 2013.
“Being able to go my freshman year it was a little scary, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself and the team going into this year,” said senior Hannah Niekamp, who was part of the state-qualifying team in 2013. “Just being able to go back is really cool because not everyone gets to experience that.”
It was far from certain that either team would make it this far in the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament. The Versailles girls went 8-4 in the regular season while the Versailles boys went 7-5, but they started to click when it mattered most in the postseason.
“I really feel that we’ve pulled together as a team in the postseason,” junior Kyle Cotner said. “I feel if we keep bowling the way we’ve been bowling we should get pretty far into the tournament.”
The format for the state tournament for both the boys and girls includes three regular games and three baker games. After that the top eight teams by total score will advance to head-to-head match play in bracket format with best-of-five baker games determining the winners.
“You get in the top eight, and it’s match play, best out of five baker games after that,” Versailles coach Tyler Phlipot said. “So anything can happen.”
Both Versailles teams have the same goal – winning a state championship.
“If we shoot our average we’ll be sitting really good,” Niekamp said. “I just think to come out with a win would be great. It’s every team’s dream.”
The teams know it won’t be easy to achieve their goals, but that hasn’t stopped them from dreaming.
“I’d like to win, but I just really hope to do well at state,” senior Michael Hemmelgarn said. “It will be hard to win, but I think as a team we can do it.”
Versailles’ Michael Davidson won an individual state championship in 2013, but neither the boys nor girls have ever won a team state title.
“I just want to bowl our butts off,” senior Olivia Bruening said.
Versailles also could be in line for some strong individual performances. Niekamp finished seventh overall at the district tournament with a 639 three-game series.
“The field is pretty tough, but there’s no reason she can’t come out on top,” Phlipot said. “Just got to keep her mind into it and just keep her calm at times but I think she’s got a fairly good shot. I think Kyle Cotner’s good a decent shot. Depending on how Alex’s (Groff) arm’s is feeling I think he’s got a good shot. But it’s anybody’s game. If you got at the right time anybody can win it.”
Cotner finished fourth overall at districts with a 690 series. Just like the team as a whole, he’s seen an improvement in his individual play since the postseason began.
“It’s been awesome,” Cotner said. “It was a little rough during the regular season, but postseason has been pretty good for me. I’ve bowled pretty well, and I hope to continue it in state competition.”
The boys will get their chance to compete first as the Division II state tournament begins at 10:30 today at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl in Columbus. The girls will compete at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.
With both teams in Columbus, the Tigers know they’ll have lots of support during the state tournament.
“It will be nice having both teams to support each other,” Hemmelgarn said. “It will be a big morale booster.”
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.