ST. CHARLES – Carving out time for bowling has been tricky for St. Charles North senior Ashley Montgomery, while classmate Bobbi Jo Buhlman has been a fixture around the lanes since she was a little girl.
North’s senior leaders take markedly different approaches with the sport but have united to make the North Stars among the prime contenders to advance from Saturday’s Freeport Sectional.
“I think Bobbi Jo’s always felt comfortable bowling, and Ashley’s really grown into herself, last year, but this year’s a big difference,” North coach Lindsay Madej said.
Four-year varsity bowlers for North’s five-year old girls bowling program, Buhlman and Montgomery have played crucial roles in turning North into one of the area’s top teams. The North Stars finished second out of 10 teams at Saturday’s Metea Valley Regional to earn their trip to Freeport.
In Montgomery’s case, committing to North bowling required major schedule-manipulating, especially earlier this season. Montgomery is heavily involved in music, theater and photography at North, and ran into a steady stream of conflicts in December with bowling season underway and North’s Madrigal performance approaching. She typically left bowling practice early and arrived at music rehearsals late, although she occasionally had to skip rehearsals or matches altogether to accommodate pressing events.
“It was stressful,” Montgomery said. “It was around finals, too, because it was the end of the semester, so it was stressful, but I liked doing both of them, so it was stressful thinking about all the things I had to do, but when I was doing them, I love doing them, so it was something that I enjoyed.”
Buhlman, meanwhile, isn’t single-minded about bowling, but her focus on the sport is rivaled by few in the area. Her father, Ken is an assistant coach for North, and her older brother, Ben, bowls collegiately at St. Ambrose, where Bobbi Jo intends to bowl next year.
Her team-best average of 205 and high game of 298 this season are evidence of her longstanding investment in the sport. Buhlman was North’s lone state qualifier last year as a junior.
Buhlman credited a new wristguard with helping her take her bowling to an even higher level this season.
“It took a while, but finally I got used to it, and now I can’t bowl without it,” Buhlman said.
While Buhlman is North’s top bowler, it was Montgomery who led the way at regionals with a 1,220 pinfall in six games, the second-best output at the regional.
“I actually finished bowling and then one of the people in the crowd were like ‘Hey, do you know that you got second?’ and I didn’t really believe them at first, but it was really cool,” Montgomery said. “And then the pro bowler, Sean Rash, was there, and we got to meet him, and he handed out the awards, and that was just a cool experience.”
Montgomery’s 185 season average is two pins behind North’s No. 2 bowler, junior Mari Elias.
The North Stars will need their depth to come through Saturday to claim one of four berths to the state meet Feb. 21 and 22 in Rockford. St. Charles East – which took third at regionals – also is part of the sectional field.
“I don’t think Bobbi Jo wants to go by herself,” Madej said. “I think she wants to bring everybody with her.”
Leaning on quality senior leaders like Buhlman and Montgomery has helped Madej coax team wide buy-in to her bowling philosophy of treating the sport as seriously as other athletes take their sports. A former volleyball coach at North, Madej has transferred much of her approach from that sport to bowling, especially when it comes to nutrition and embracing calisthenics.
“I come from a different place,” Madej said. “I come from Division I, college volleyball. I come from coaching girls who went to play Division I, college volleyball, and we did conditioning all the time. So it’s second-nature to me, and why should it be any different with bowling?
“We don’t eat bowling alley food, we don’t drink pop, we don’t have candy at our lanes. We treat this just like any other sport. I think that’s important that they think about themselves as athletes, not just ‘Oh, we’re at the bowling alley,’ because when you walk into a bowling alley, you don’t always think about being serious and competitive. You kind of think about hanging out on a Friday night with cosmic lights going, and your friends.”