Marion Harding boys bowlers gearing up for grind
MARION ― Before the Presidents can even think about returning to the Division I boys bowling state tournament for a sixth straight season, Marion Harding has other business to tend to.
First up is winning the outright Mid Ohio Athletic Conference regular season championship, but standing in their way is Pleasant.
The Presidents are undefeated in the MOAC and have clinched a share of it with a 9-0 mark, but Pleasant is right behind with its only loss coming to Harding earlier in the season. The rematch is set for Thursday afternoon at Cooper's Bowl.
"That’s our first step," Harding senior Jayden Combs said. "We can’t move past that until we get that checked off the list. We’ve bested them once already, but we still have to walk in and give it our best shot. They’ve still got some respect to earn, but they’re definitely getting there for sure. That’s our first step."
After that comes the MOAC Bowling Tournament at Galion's Victory Lanes on Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. Division I sectionals will be held at HP Lanes in Columbus on Feb. 25 with district qualifiers returning to HP Lanes on Feb. 28. The boys state tournament at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl will be March 11.
"We do have some time," Harding coach Corey Chatman said of their approach down the stretch. "We have the pattern. We’ve bowled on the sectional and district pattern. I think that’s the big thing for us. We’re going to take the next couple of weeks where we have a couple of tournaments and we’re just going to practice bowling the shot. That’s the good thing about Cooper’s. They’ll lay it out for us. We’ll get practice on it so we are ready to go when it’s time."
Two years ago, Combs won the individual state championship and the boys finished third in the state. Last year, the Presidents made it to the finals and settled for a Division I state runner-up trophy.
With a senior-laden lineup and with a team dealing high expectations, the Presidents amped up the schedule to gear themselves for what lies ahead.
They had non-leaguers with Sandusky, Ashland, Lexington and others, plus they competed in several Saturday tournaments in central Ohio and one near Dayton where they faced some of the best teams in the state throughout the winter.
"We’re a seasoned team, and I felt like getting these guys out there," Chatman said of the schedule. "At the end of the day, they’re getting exposure. College coaches go to these tournaments and talk to the kids. The best thing about it is because of the bowling these guys do, they have friends on all different teams. They go down there and they’re just hanging out and getting caught back up. That’s a good thing."
Combs, a stalwart for the Presidents throughout his four years of varsity bowling, hopes this latest group is ready for what lies ahead. He, Jordan Hensley and Cameron Rayner are the holdovers from last year's squad, while guys like Gavin Houseworth, Austen Valentine, Jacob Beaschler and others are stepping into elevated roles.
"Right now we might lack a little bit of confidence that I don’t think we should be lacking," Combs said. "We have a bumpy day here and there and it gets to our head a little bit. When we get there, I think we’ll be all right. We still have a whole month of practice where you can basically sit here and develop what we need to do."
He said it's all about practice time right now.
"We’ve got to lock into our keys and what we need to do so we don’t move too far ahead and we bowl where our feet are and not think ahead. Nothing is done yet, so we’ve got to stay in the present and bowl the best we can," Combs said.
They can mimic the oil patterns they'll see in the postseason, but the lanes in each house can still react differently. Combs said HP Lanes hooks earlier than typically occurs at Cooper's Bowl, so they need to know the nuances and be able to adjust in the moment.
"Being in the environment is obviously a little more nerve-wracking than just practice," Combs added. "That affects it a little. Me being through it so many times and me being through everything so many times, I just go with it. You’ve got to stay calm in the moment and every moment. You can’t start worrying about what’s ahead if you do this or what you’re going to shoot if you do this. You have to stay in the moment for sure."
Chatman will do his best to make sure the Presidents are ready for what lies ahead in the next month. That's why they spent so much time at these uber-competitive Saturday tourneys in season.
"It allows us to get away from everybody and hone-in on the grind of doing this together," the coach said. "One person isn’t going to carry us through. We all have to chip in. You’re starting to see some of that. These guys are starting to find that groove."
And it starts Thursday at Cooper's Bowl in the biggest match of the regular season, facing Pleasant.
This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Marion Harding boys bowlers gearing up for grind