“Newcomers” Have Riders On Brink Of Another State Title

St. Marys’ Cameron Now practices on Monday afternoon as the Roughriders get ready for their fourth straight state appearance on Friday.
Sports Editor

When the season began in November, St. Marys coach Scott Ross was not sure how he was going to replace the production from five seniors in last year's Division II state champion team. 

Now in March, he is preparing to win a second straight state title.

What a difference four months can make. 

"Within two matches, I realized I had a better team than I thought, which is a lot better than the start of the season," Ross said. "I had people asking me how the team was going to be this year and I would say, 'I don't know, this is going to be tough, I don't know what I am going to do.'

"But I feel like I say that a lot of years but as long as the kids listen and they put in the work, I am always pleased with how things turn out."

Fresh off the program's second state championship in three years, Ross had two mainstays returning in senior Derek Fisher and junior Jr. Hurley, but was going to have to elevate four bowlers from the junior varsity program in Cameron Now, Jake Hardin, Devin Shannon and Jonathan Perez-Shinaberry, and Caleb Monbeck join the team after he moved from Washington state. 

"The kids who were on the team last year all had good years, but the but x-factor was Johnny, Cam and Jake coming off of JV last year," Ross said. "Those three helped us out a ton and Caleb decide to join the team this year.

"I was concerned with losing five of the best bowlers in the state of Ohio and all I thought about is, 'how am I going to do this.' The kids listened. Cam had a tremendous season, Johnny almost won bowler of the year, Cam just shot 277 the other day and the kids have really, really filled the roles."

As the season took off, the Roughriders (12-1, 9-0 WBL) kept winning, including impressive wins against Troy, Versailles, Wapakoneta and state champion Coldwater before cleaning up the Western Buckeye League for its third straight league crown. The only loss of the season came against state-qualifying Sidney by 31 pins. 

Once the team beat Coldwater and Tory, however, bowlers knew they had a special team.

At the WBL Championship, Fisher was the league's individual champion with a 652 series and the senior Now earned First-Team All-WBL honors with his 630 series — third-highest total in the tournament.

In the postseason, St. Marys finished runner-up by one pin to Wapakoneta at sectionals but won districts on Saturday by 224 pins to runner-up Ashland. Hurley led the Riders with a 614 series, followed by Perez-Shinaberry with a 591 as both made all-district team.

For the success, a lot of the credit goes to Ross, but it also goes to the newcomers on the team. 

"They stepped up a lot," Hurley said. "It was definitely going to be a challenge with five seniors leaving and we definitely had to help them out, but they knew what we expected of them and they really filled the shoes of those five seniors really well.

"We won the WBL, that was our No. 1 goal, and the next goal was to make it to state and here we are."

And the newcomers are ready for another challenge.

"I'm excited," Now added. "I've only heard good things about it and how crazy it is to be there. So I am looking forward to it.

"I listened to what Scott had to say and I followed the advice that he gave. I think that helped a lot considering where I was last year at JV."

Hardin echoed the same sentiments as Now.

"He put in a lot of work in the offseason and in the first two tournaments we had this year, he had great weeks," Ross said of Hardin. "He had some really good weeks early on and then he struggled, which that's how bowling goes. Johnny had a great season but he went through a stretch for two or three weeks where he really struggled.

"So he and Jr put in the extra work right before districts — not that the other kids didn't work too — but they came out and practiced on some stuff and it really made a difference in districts."

"I've stepped up from JV last year and it has really helped out the team a lot," Perez-Shinaberry added.

Perez-Shinaberry added that Ross deserves a big chunk of the credit for getting the program to its fourth straight state appearance and Fisher chimed in by saying Ross doesn't get enough credit.

"I push them pretty hard, but I have bowled all my life, I am pretty competitive and I take it very seriously," Ross said. And when they take it seriously, they do great."

Now, Monbeck, Hardin and Shannon have not experienced an environment like the state tournament, but Perez-Shinaberry has. Like he has done to bowlers in previous years, Ross brought the junior lefty to state last year just to witness the feel.

"And he admitted [Perez-Shinaberry] that when you do get on those lanes at Wayne Webb and they announce your team your heart starts beating and when they announce you as a 2017 or a 2019 champion, everyone in the house is staring at you," Ross said. "It really makes all the work we put in worth it when you get down there. You can't match that experience any other way. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing." 

To read the full story, see Tuesday's print edition of The Evening Leader.