Two years ago, Grace McCown made a decision.
A two-sport athlete at Capital High School, she decided to give up softball to concentrate on bowling. The choice has paid off for the Cougars. McCown will lead them into the Class 3A bowling state championships at Narrows Plaza Bowl in Tacoma, which begin Friday.
“Bowling fits my independent personality better,” said McCown, a senior who had a high game of 196 last week as Capital finished fourth in the 3A West Central District tournament.
“But we also have great friendships on our varsity team. We have so much fun. If someone’s not playing well, the other girls will pick her up.”
McCown finished third individually at districts and teammate Miranda Smith placed ninth with a consistent three-game series of 169/155/170.
Mike Deakins has coached the Cougars’ bowling team all four years of its existence and knows why this year’s group became the first-ever Olympia School District team to reach state.
“It’s a true team,” he said. “Lots of times, you have one or two good players. Any of our top five can have our highest score on a given day. If one or two are off, the others step up.”
McCown takes the lead most often, Deakins said, because of her mental toughness.
“It’s like Yogi Berra said: Ninety percent of it is mental, the other half is physical. Bowling can be frustrating,” Deakins said. “What sets Grace apart is not that she doesn’t get frustrated, but that she doesn’t let it take her out of her game. She’s played through migraines. She’s come straight from a youth league to our practices. She’ll keep going even when she’s maxed out.”
McCown, who will attend The Evergreen State College next year and plans to be an elementary school teacher, agreed.
“I’m very passionate about the game,” she said. “I want to do it. I genuinely want to be a very good player.”
Deakins had praise for the rest of his starting lineup as well.
“Miranda has been bowling since she could walk,” he said. “She’s got that quirky Westside Lanes youth league motion. Ashlee Dunkelburger was rolling the ball nine miles per hour when she started, now she’s got a powerful hook that looks like a college or pro player when you watch her.”
Ali Nazy and alternate Mayah Bosley have already been selected as next year’s team captains for their level of determination, and Deakins said alternate Emily Clements came on strong during the second half of the season.
Perhaps no player showed as much focus as Caty Le, whose top game at districts was a 164.
“She and Grace are the two who put significant time into improving their games,” Deakins said. “I saw Caty in the hallway one day at school. She had gotten a pass and was out there practicing her swing and follow through.”
The Cougars will need to contend with powerhouse teams such as Central Kitsap (which edged them out for the 3A South Sound Conference championship), Wilson and Bethel, and will need to adapt to more freshly oiled lanes than they are used to bowling on in Thurston County to have a shot at a title this weekend.
“If all five of our top bowlers are on their game together this weekend, we could be a Cinderella story,” Deakins said. “We have yet to see that this season, but if it happens, we’ll be right there.”
2A/1A STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Two bowlers from Black Hills placed in the top eight at the 2A/1A individual state championships on Thursday at Narrows Plaza Bowl.
Elsa Veria-Means, a junior, threw a 211 in her final game to finish sixth, edging out Selah’s RayAnn Davis. Veria-Means’ six-game split was 175/160/124/196/179/211 for a total of 1,045.
Black Hills’ Grace Gibbs finished eighth with a six-game total of 967. She threw her best game in the third round with a 211.
Mark Morris’ Brooklyn Boudreau won the individual tournament with a six-game total of 1,202.
WIAA Girls Bowling State Championships
At Narrows Plaza Bowl, University Place
2016 team champions: 4A — Wenatchee. 3A/2A — Hanford.
2016 individual winners: 4A — Cheyanne Greening, Eastmont (1,279 series). 3A/2A — Ashlyn Jamrog, Olympic (1,189 series).
Schedule: Friday — Class 2A/1A Baker games, 8 a.m.-10 a.m.; Class 3A and 4A individual game sessions are 12:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.(Games 1-3) and 4:15 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (Games 4-6). Saturday — Class 4A and 3A Baker games are 8 a.m.-10 a.m.
The skinny: The 3A field is stacked with plenty of locals, but Timberline’s Mikayla Jarvis is the only tournament veteran. She placed 20th in 4A last season. ... North Thurston’s Makenzie Brathovd is the top individual qualifier after recording a three-game total of 558 at last weekend’s 3A West Central District tournament, and will be joined by teammate Victoria Kast. ... Capital finished fourth as a team at districts to become the first team in Olympia School District history to qualify for the state tournament. The Cougars are led by Grace McCown, who finished just behind Brathovd last weekend, rolling a 531. Ashlee Dunkelberger, Caty Le, Miranda Smith, Mayah Bosley, Ali Nazy and Emily Clements round out Capital’s team. ... Shelton will send a pair of bowlers — Kaylee Slone and Kaylee Schilter. Yelm will send three — Carley Johnson, Jessica Mullins and Shelby Hall. ... Olympia’s Laura Martinez is the only local bowler competing in 4A.
Tickets: Daily passes are $10 for adults, $8 for students/senior citizens. Tournament passes are $16 for adults, $11 for students/senior citizens.
Todd Milles: firstname.lastname@example.org