ST. CHARLES – St. Charles North boys bowlers get their rolls on at St. Charles Bowl while glancing at a backdrop of a dusky Chicago skyline.
This weekend, the North Stars will be bound for the shadows of St. Louis as first-time IHSA state tournament qualifiers. Their first of six preliminary games at St. Clair Bowl in downstate O’Fallon is set to begin at 9:45 a.m. today.
Six seniors, one junior, one sophomore and two co-head coaches with growing lane experience help comprise the contingent. Here is a look at some of their stories, within varying distances of the ball return:
• North advanced to state with a second-place finish at Saturday’s Lake Park Sectional, competing at the Brunswick Zone in Roselle.
Senior Kyle True scored a 1,311 over six games to pace the team in a performance that almost wasn’t.
Though he led the JV for the past two seasons and steadily has climbed the program ranks, True realized he had been struggling lately and wasn’t a shoo-in for the six-man sectional lineup. Before Saturday, his top series was 670. At the Brunswick Zone, he rolled a 683 in the morning and 628 after lunch.
“I was just really focused and anticipating doing good,” True said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to start the day. They put me in, I bowled good, so they had no real choice to take me out.”
Co-coaches Jeff Fett and Jason Yeates call senior Ben Buhlman the team’s most consistent kegler, and that held to form with his sectional score of 1,275. But provided True’s resurgence doesn’t breed false hope, the North Stars like their chances to compete.
• Traditional power Lake Park boasted three of the top five scorers at the sectional, winning the 13-team race with a 6,575 that only North (6,181) and St. Charles East (6,015) put under legitimate duress.
The North Stars finished second to the Lancers at the recent Upstate Eight Conference meet but tightened the gap at sectionals.
“Even though they graduate all their seniors, somehow, I don’t know, they seem to get better and better every year,” Buhlman said. “But I think we’re getting up there with them. We were close. They were pretty nervous at sectionals.”
Buhlman and classmate Jeremy Kummet, both inaugural varsity members from the 2009-10 team, have grown used to Lake Park’s run.
While they’re competitive, naturally, they’re also complimentary of the Lancers.
“They’ve been the leader house since I started here. They’ve won state [in 2008-09] and they’ve won conference. They’re a good team,” Buhlman said. “They’ve got a lot of power and they have really good coaches, too.”
• That’s not to roll Fett or Yeates through the gutter, although both men admit to being relative bowling bumpkins.
“Am I ready to hang with these guys? Not quite yet,” Fett said. “Give me a year or two, and we’ll be there with them.”
Fett and Yeates volunteered to take over the program before the season, as former coach Lori Downie finalized a family move. Her husband, an employee of the elevator and escalator manufacturer the Schindler Group, recently was transferred to Toledo, Ohio. The couple had been living long-distance for about a year.
Downie worked at the North learning resource center through much of the fall, and still was on hand for the first few days of tryouts. She respectfully kept her distance, advising Fett and Yeates on the protocol of practice and meet days. Meantime, Downie also had a hunch her former charges would be planning an O’Fallon itinerary.
“She kept saying this was the year, this was the year. She knew it was in the clouds,” said Lindsay Trudell, the North girls coach and a Downie friend. “They are a talented group of boys. Life happens.”
Fett (2002-03) and Yeates (2003-04) joined the North faculty around the same time and had some time open. Fett coaches lower-level North teams during boys and girls soccer season, while Yeates, the director and coach at Elgin-based Top Flight Volleyball Club, largely is active at night.
North parents Ken Buhlman and Brian Kummet, both longtime bowlers, have been assistants throughout the season, lending what Fett lauds as “extra eyes and expertise.”
Still, that’s not to suggest he and Yeates simply spend their afternoons playing Golden Tee or scarfing mozzarella sticks.
“I’m not saying you have to be the best at it to coach it,” Yeates said, “but you understand from that technical aspect just what’s going on. And we do.”
• Bowlers often discuss the art of pinpointing oil lane patterns, but there’s no “magic eye” complex behind it.
“You can’t really see it, but you can normally tell after the second or third ball how much oil is going to be out there,” Buhlman said. “And you really rely on your teammates to let you know, too. We all work together to tell them which arrow to use.”
Feedback figures to be especially key at state, when bowlers play each of their six games on different lanes. The same pattern would follow on Saturday should North be among the top 12 teams or produce any of the top 30 scoring individuals after prelims.
An opponent’s style and even dry lane time – as in the 30 minutes bowlers are allotted for lunch – are other variables.
• North’s six seniors – Ross Hodges, Derek Rayner, Kyle Slinker, Buhlman, Kummet and True – were especially laid-back during this week’s practices.
Two falls ago, they were sophomores beaming over a morning announcement about joining the school’s newest sport. Now they hope students have their ears perked about historical successes first thing Monday.
“Get the bowling name out there,” True said. “I mean, this is only our third year and we’re already making it to state. Hopefully, there’s some more big things ahead.”
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.