Monday, 18 November 2019 19:50

Bowling Season Preview: Strong interest, returning players to lead Raiders, Lady Raiders

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Junior Hunter Hancock is one of several returning male and female bowlers to this year's program. Junior Hunter Hancock is one of several returning male and female bowlers to this year's program. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — As the Richmond Senior High School bowling program enters its third season of existence, second-year head coach Ralph Butler has seen the sport’s interest grow, and that, he hopes, will bring the boys’ and girls’ teams success this winter.

The Raider and Lady Raider bowling teams will knock pins for the first time this season on Thursday at Lumberton Bowling Center, becoming the third and fourth varsity programs to begin winter sports play. 

A season ago, the Raiders finished third in the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament and qualified for the state tournament, but will be without five of the sixth bowlers this season. On the Lady Raiders’ side, Butler is returning four players with another year of experience, and looks to replace former No. 1 bowler Savannah Lampley, who finished eighth in the state during her senior year.

“The biggest thing is the interest continues to grow with the sport, especially with the girls,” Butler explained. “There were over twice as many girls at tryouts this year compared to last year, and there were more boys as well. 

“Some of the (returning bowlers) joined a league at the bowling alley and improved their numbers since last year,” he added. “I also feel like we have a better understanding of what to expect at the meets, and that will help us better prepare.”

Both teams this season have 11 bowlers on them, and it’s the Lady Raiders who bring back the most experience. Returning to the lanes with significant playing time logged last year will be seniors Kayla Howell and Jessilyn Hubbard, along with juniors Autumn Hoffman and Josie Standridge.

Other members on the team this year include seniors Hannah Bennett, Amber Henson, Carley Lambeth, Hailey Miller and Hannah Stewart, and freshmen Ashlyn Bouldin and Cadence Thompson.

“I’m returning four girls (Hoffman, Howell, Standridge and Hubbard) who played all of last year and so far their numbers are inspiring,” Butler commented. “Last year Savannah was a no-brainer at the anchor spot, so this year it’ll be more competitive. But overall, I think our pin totals should improve and I’m excited to see what they can do.”

On the boys’ side, just two regulars from last season are back, seeing juniors Hunter Hancock and Mitchell Massey return. Massey competed in the state championship meet and helped guide Richmond to a 10th-place finish, while Hancock competed in most of the team’s regular season matches.

Gone are a handful of seniors and Butler will be looking to several newcomers to the sport to step up. Luke Preslar is the team’s only senior this year, and he’ll be joined by juniors Tyler Bittle and Joseph Grant, sophomores Cody Eason, Dexter Mabe and Cameron Way, and freshmen Luke McCormick, Lane Richardson and William White.

“The boys will be young, but we got some guys back that got plenty of playing time last year,” Butler noted. “And the new guys are competitive and some of them joined leagues and got better. There will be more competition with them compared to last year.”

High school bowling follows the Baker format, which sees the top five bowlers from each team compete together for a total team score. The best bowler on the team serves as the anchor, which bowls the fifth and 10th frames. The other four bowlers each take two of the remaining eight frames.

Each regular-season meeting will consist of two four-game matches against an SAC opponent.

Butler said the ultimate goal will be for both the boys’ and girls’ teams to build a chemistry with one another to knock down as many pins as possible. During the regular season in 2018-2019, the Raiders took fourth of eight teams in the SAC, while the Lady Raiders finished sixth.

Both teams have spent the last couple of weeks at Striker’s Bowling Alley in Rockingham to gear up for their season opener. Looking to win the SAC title again, and poses at the conference’s biggest threat, will be Lumberton High School, which also won the state championship last year.

Jack Britt High School, which proved to be a tough opponent a season ago, has a roster turnover that’s similar to Richmond’s, Butler noted. One school his teams will keep an eye on will be Pinecrest High School, which has seen its program grow the past couple of seasons, too.

“As a program, we’re heading in the right direction,” Butler said of Richmond’s pre-season progress. “While our roster turnover was a lot this year, for the boys especially, the increased numbers and interest is promising.”

The head coach closed by thanking Striker’s owners Steve and Angel Thompson for allowing the high school bowlers to use the facility to prepare for the upcoming five-match regular season.

Action will get underway in Lumberton on Thursday at 4 p.m.

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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