Riders Gear Up For Another Ride To Columbus

St. Marys Western Buckeye League First-Team selection Jaden Gibson practices on Monday at Varsity Lanes in preparation for Saturday’s Division II girls state tournament.
Sports Editor

St. Marys has been rolling all season and now the Roughriders are rolling into Columbus. 

“As a senior, it feels nice to be going for the second year in a row and knowing that our team is just as strong as last year with losing a few seniors,” senior Alyana Thornsberry said. “But we gain some juniors and a sophomore who is keeping us together.”

The Roughriders overcame Dorian Regedanz and Sara Hardin from last season’s state-winning team, but seniors Thornsberry, Jaden Gibson, Samantha Ackroyd and Debbie Swisher built a 12-1 team who overcame a loss to Wapakoneta in the middle of the season to win its fourth straight Western Buckeye League title and cruised to a pair of runner-up finishes in Division II tournament matches — led by a first-year varsity bowler at districts to get the Riders back to state for a third straight year. 

Hopefully, the pins keep falling for the blue and gold.

“It’s more of a well-rounded team than we have ever had,” Roughriders coach Jay Gibson said. “There is always somebody who is going to step up. If someone is struggling, someone else is always going to step up.”

“It’s bad because your sixth and seventh bowlers don’t get as much playing time as they should, but it’s good because you are always going to have someone struggle every week and we know we have another person on our bench who can come in and fill that gap,” Roughriders coach Karl Dammeyer added.

The Roughriders received a big boost at districts when Tricia Yahl made the all-tournament team with a third-place 629 series at Westgate Lanes to lead the Roughriders last week. Dammeyer joked that Yahl knew she could bowl like that all season, but it came at the right time when some of the girls said they were having issues with sticking on their approaches. 

“I had some goals set in my head and I challenged myself to get them,” Yahl added. “The lane patterns were just right that day and things went well.”

Just when it looked like the Roughriders were on their way to a fourth straight league title as they extended their WBL win streak, Wapakoneta came to town days after Christmas and gave the Riders a rude present by handing St. Marys its first league loss in 23 straight games.

“It motivated us because we learned that we can’t be too friendly to some friends across the border,” Thornsberry said. “So I think it got us on our feet to let people around us affect us as much as it has previously. I think we watch teams too closely and I feel like if we just stay focused on our own scores then we’ll achieve our goals easier and faster.”

But St. Marys responded with their well-rounded team with wins in its final five matches, including a non-league win against Coldwater.

Then the Roughriders hosted the WBL Championship poised to grab that fourth straight league title but trailed rival Wapakoneta after two games.

That changed in a hurry and when it did change, it changed for good.

Trailing 152 pins heading into the third game, each St. Marys bowler struck in their first frame and nearly covered the deficit by beating Wapakoneta 101 pins to trail 51 pins before taking the tournament over for good with a 202-140 advantage in the first Baker.

“It motivated us in the WBL tournament when we were down then and we didn’t want to lose to Wapak again and we wanted another WBL title,” Lily Steinberg said. “So starting out with all those strikes at the beginning of the third game motivated us to keep going.”

Swisher was the league’s individual runner-up champion with a 561 series, Thornsberry (542) and Gibson (478) led the way with first-team recognition, followed by Yahl (509) as a third-team selection and Swisher taking honorable mention accolades.

For Yahl, a first-year varsity bowler, she has embraced her role on a veteran-laden team.

“I wasn’t scared, but I was scared to fail,” she said. “There was that feeling of being scared to fail but everybody does it.

“From JV to varsity, I feel like I have taken practices a little bit more seriously and I have focused more on refining my details and really strengthening your mind because bowling is a really big mental game. I’m excited for the new experience of going to state.”

And after back-to-back runner-up performances at sectionals and districts, the Riders are gearing up for another state title run. 

Thornsberry has been to Columbus three times, Gibson has been there all four years — she qualified as an individual as a freshman — and Swisher, Steinberg and Ackroyd are making their return trip so the team knows what to expect. 

So how do the girls remain hungry for another state championship?

Look no further than their competition.

“We saw Bryan at districts and they were just as good if not even better than last year and we know that we have to improve even more just to beat them out again,” Gibson said. “And Coldwater, they are better than they were last year too so they are another team to watch out for.

“But we also know that we need to bowl the best that we can.”

“We know we can beat both of them, we just kind of let go because we think we are ahead and then it goes downhill,” Steinberg added.

The girls credited their competitive fire for keeping them hungry for another run.

Even practice is competitive.

“When you’re actually bowling in a match it just ignites that instinct to beat each other again and you are competing against all of the other teams too,” Yahl said. “You just have to constantly work your way up. There has to be a good dedication every week. You have to be at practice and you have to constantly work hard.”

“We only bowl three days a week, but in that time, we bowl about five or six games,” Ackroyd stated. “And yeah, we compete against each other, but it is a fun competition because we are all friends and we are all close to each other.

“So that togetherness helps us during tournament time and in games because we are having fun with each other.”

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