CHAMPION - There are no jitters or butterflies. There's no fear of the unexpected or of the unknown. There's only one thing on the mind of the Champion boys bowling team: Winning a long awaited state title.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m., today the Golden Flashes will step on to the lanes at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl for the third straight season to battle 15 other teams for the coveted state title - and the first in Division II. This is the first year the sport has been divided into two divisions.
"I think we started losing all the jitters through all the tournaments," Zach Zigmont said. "But this is what it all comes down to. For all of the four years we've bowled, this is what it comes down to, this is our last chance."
For seniors Justin Cox, Danny Simmons and Zigmont, this is the only way they wanted to end their senior year. Along with junior Jared Gould, who took home second-team All-Ohio honors in 2013, the team has progressed a little farther each year at the state tournament.
In 2012, the Golden Flashes failed to advance out of the qualifying round by seven pins. Last year, the team advanced to the championship round, which consists of the top eight teams after three individual games and three baker games, but were knocked out after the first match by Cincinnati Oak Hill.
With the improvement the team has made each year, Zigmont is hoping the law of averages works in their favor.
"We went from ninth place in 2012, then moved to fifth place last year, that's four spots. If we move up another four spots this year, that's a state title."
While the Golden Flashes bring a wealth of experience and talent to the lanes (all bowlers average in the high 190s or 200s), the road is not easy - and it is filled with familiar foes.
In the third game of the qualifying round, the Golden Flashes, who won the northeast district, will face foe Fairport Harding, which is the third seed from the northeast. Though Fairport isn't a local opponent, the two have formed an intense rivalry over the past few seasons. Champion will square off with its other nemesis, the second-seeded Struthers Wildcats, in the qualifying baker games.
"I like seeing people we know, because when the lanes start breaking down, we know what they are going to do," Simmons said. "It's all up in the air now. Anything can happen on any given Sunday, or in our case Friday."
While the Golden Flashes like the fact they will face known opponents, they realize what they need to do to advance, and hopefully win, the state title - pick up spares and bowl as a team.
"The problem we had at the beginning of the year and in some of the early tournaments was that we weren't working as a team, we were just going to bowl and we were bowling for ourselves," Cox said. "These past couple tournaments, we beat Fairport for the first time and that really kind of brought us together. We lost to Brunswick by a strike. Then we met them again at districts and showed them who's boss, and as a team. No one individually did that great, but because we all bowled what we needed to bowl as a team, we were able to win districts."
Champion hopes the same philosophy works today in Columbus.