Champion bowlers have eye on the prize

CHAMPION – Many times before games or matches, teams in any sport will form a huddle, pump each other up, and give a “1, 2, 3, Go Team!” or something along those lines.

Not the Champion boys bowling team. There is no hootin’ and hollering before their matches. They just want to bowl.

“At one of our matches last week, I asked the guys if they wanted to do a ‘1, 2, 3, go Flashes,’ Champion first-year coach Dale Johnson said. “All the seniors just looked at me and said, ‘Let’s just bowl.’ “

When Champion is on the lanes, it’s all business. At a match, spectators will see the bowlers talking quietly amongst themselves, trying to give corrections and guide their teammates during matches. There might be a few high fives thrown in after a strike.

It’s not that they aren’t having fun. They are just focused – they want to get back to Columbus for the state bowling tournament.

“The goal, it’s always going to be going back to state,” senior Zach Zigmont said. “We only lost one senior, and I’m sure we have replaced him with the new guys. We’ve had more kids step up. And I like our chances because we’ve already been there twice. We know what it takes.”

Last season, Champion advanced to the elimination round of the state tournament after earning the two seed during qualifying. However, the Golden Flashes were eliminated in the first round, being upset by the seventh-seeded team, Cincinnati Oak Hill. Though the early exit, the Champion finished fifth in the state.

Advancing to the elimination round was a step better than the Golden Flashes accomplished in 2012. That year, Champion failed to advance out of the qualifying round by a mere seven pins.

Needless to say the Flashes have something to prove.

“Obviously, the longterm goal is to go back to state,” Johnson said. “They talk about unfinished business. But I try to keep them focused on one game a time, one tournament at a time.”

So far this season, the “one-game-at-a-time” cliche has been working fine. They are currently 2-0 on the season and have beat their two opponents (Campbell and Liberty) by a combined pin total of 5,683 to 3,598 – a difference of 2,085 pins.

Many times on a high school team, if one bowler has a 200 average, they are the clear number one and will probably advance to the district tournament. For Champion, its entire starting five on any given day can lead the Flashes in pin count.

So far this season, Zigmont leads the pack with a 229.5 average. David Yenchocic, who was the Flashes No. 2 man last year, registers a 219.5. Jared Gould, who received second-team all-state honors last season, has a 217 average followed by Dan Simmons’ 214 mark. Simmons was the state medalist as a sophomore.

Justin Cox is the newest member of the team, replacing graduated senior Eric Ferraro. So far this season, he is averaging a 211.5 score.

“(They know they have talent) but they aren’t cocky about it,” Johnson said. “I think they know there are a lot of places they can go (this season).”

And for Zigmont and the Flashes, the place they want to go is Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl – specifially on the weekend of Feb. 28 through March 1. And this time, they don’t want to come home empty handed.

“I think we’re up there with all of the (past Champion teams that have advanced),” Zigmont said. “I think we will be better. Everyone has experience. We can all go out there and get it done.”