Adding to the collection
Bobcat bowlers seeking state championship after back-to-back runner-up finishes
That number has been stuck in the heads of the Marshalltown boys bowling team after missing out on its second state title in program history a year ago.
After a tough start to the individual series, and after trailing by more than 100 pins after the third Baker game the Bobcats nearly fought back to claim the state crown, but they fell shy by just eight pins to Southeast Polk.
MHS senior Ray Wiegand said there hasn’t been a day since last year’s state meet where that hasn’t crossed his mind.
“It was heartbreaking, honestly,” Wiegand said. “We were so close and we made such a good run at it. At the end of that game, we all thought that was it and we made it, but when we saw that we were eight pins shy, that hurt and it stung for a while. I have bowled a lot of tournaments myself in the last year as well that I’ve missed by two, four, six pins, and it stings every time. But that number eight, it just hurt. It just sucks that we were that close, yet so far away. Just one good mark, one good spare and we would have been there.”
A year later the Bobcats are back in the state tournament for the eighth time in nine years and for the fifth-straight year since 2015, and they have a mission to push past the two-straight runner-up finishes of the last two years and finally claim a state title.
Marshalltown head bowling coach DJ Wilder, who has guided the Bobcats to state in his first season at the helm, said he has never shied away from bringing up the team’s past failures, because he had solutions.
“When I met with the team that was one of the first things I brought up, the eight-pin deficit,” he said. “The frame of mind I was going to bring to the team was to not worry about strikes, they all can strike, but we were going to focus on spares because it was one spare that cost us.”
It was tough for Wilder to step into the shoes left by the previous administration, who had helped Marshalltown to four-straight state appearances with a championship, two runners-up and a fourth-place finish to its credit.
“When I was offered the position I had my sights set on this and doing everything I could not to wreck it,” Wilder said. “I really felt like that’s all I could have done, come in and mess it up. I just kind of steered them in the right direction and kept them clean, but other than that I’m happy we are here but we’re not satisfied yet.”
As the season progressed, Wilder was able to get a little more hands-on with the guys.
“All six of them I know very well,” he said. “I’ve coached them in junior bowling, I have relationships set up with them, it was just a matter of as a team and a cohesion, making sure that I’m not stepping on toes or pushing too hard on certain things or what have you. As the season rolled along I started to recognize where it was I needed to step in or where I didn’t need to, and that made it easier for both me and the guys.”
Due to Wilder’s guidance and the pure talent on the team, Marshalltown heads to the Class 3A State Bowling Meet on Wednesday at Cadillac Lanes essentially in a class of its own. The Bobcats boast the top match score average in the state, regardless of class, at 3,187.7. They have the top individual game average in the state, regardless of class, at 213.3. They also have the top Baker game average in the state, regardless of class, at 210.9.
Wilder said part of that success on the lanes has come because of his emphasis on spares.
“I know that a lot of them don’t push the [pin reset button] when we are practicing like they used to, basically because I’ve said something about it so many times,” Wilder said with a smile. “I think it’s made such a difference, especially on the road meets. Substate was one of them where I thought other than some of the splits that we had, we spared very well and that made a big difference in the outcome. I am kind of looking for the same thing this week, just making sure that we are staying focused on, ‘if we don’t get a strike, so what? Let’s get the spare, come back and do it again.'”
That attitude of flushing the last throw and moving on is something that senior Kamrin Chizek said the boys have had to work on, but it’s essentially second nature to them now.
“I think in the past we have all had troubles of keeping our heads, but I think we have that on lock this year,” he said. “The big thing is we just have to go out and do our thing. Some of us, including myself, we get too wrapped up in the whole thing and forget to have fun almost, and that impacts our score even.”
Nothing has exemplified that more than the performance the Marshalltown boys have had in the postseason. First, last Wednesday in their district meet, the Bobcats won going away with a team score of 3,230, the second-best qualifying score in the state.
Wiegand, Lucas Kramer, Demitri Ferneau and Logan Proffitt placed 1-4 individually, while Wiegand’s 558 was the top individual series in the state, and Kramer’s 455 also qualified him individually.
A day later at the CIML Iowa Conference meet, Marshalltown avenged one of its two losses on the year by winning their conference tournament over Waukee with a 3,361, more than 300 pins higher than the Warriors.
After a month of January where the boys lost two meets for the first time in at least the last three years, there could have been some concern about if the team was ready to compete at the state level. Wilder said there were no such thoughts.
“The two losses that we had, the very first thing out of everyone’s mouth was that it changes nothing,” he said. “We still have our goals in mind, it’s still obtainable, don’t worry about this. It sucks, yes, but we still have something bigger in the end that we are focused on, and I didn’t have to say that because they did. I just had to reinforce it at practices and some of the meets.”
There hasn’t been a better bowler in the state in the last week than Wiegand, who also had a 279 in his first game in the CIML Iowa meet, and Wilder said it’s the continued haunting of last year that is driving him forward.
“He’s locked in, he’s focused, he wants it,” Wilder said of Wiegand. “He wants it probably more than anybody else down there. I think the eight-pin deficit sits with him worse than anyone else. They will all tell you it hurts, but with him it’s a deep-seated pain that he wants to overcome. You don’t have to tell him anything, he’s focused and on it.”
Ray has been the vocal leader for most of the season, and Wilder said Kramer matches Wiegand in many ways, but the other two seniors in Chizek and Carson Potter also have their impacts on the team.
“Those two are just kind of silent killers, they just do their thing,” Wilder said. “Ray is obviously very vocal and passionate and Lucas matches that intensity, but I think the other two we can just count on to do what they are going to do, and that’s a calming effect as well.”
Potter will be finishing his career as a three-time state meet bowler and a contributor on four state-qualifying teams, something he said he’s proud of regardless of how Wednesday turns out.
“It’s not something everybody gets to experience so I am pretty proud that I get to three out of four years,” he said. “It’s a really fun, great experience.”
If Wiegand is the ‘A’ bowler on the team, then Kramer fights for the title of ‘1A’. He has been consistent throughout the season, coming in as the bowler with the 22nd best average in the state, regardless of class, and he was the state runner-up individually a year ago.
He said taking the individual honor was an odd combination with the disappointment of the team finish.
“After districts last year I was almost dead last, so I wanted to prove that I can do something with this team,” Kramer said. “I went out there and got second at state, and I wasn’t planning on anything individually at state, I wanted that team title. Coming home in second place had both the emotions of, ‘we came back so hard,’ and then the disappointment of being so close. It was definitely a weird experience.”
While Wiegand, Potter, Chizek and Kramer were both returners from a year ago, Ferneau and Proffitt have both stepped into roles vacated by seniors. Ferneau has been a revelation, as a freshman he is 13th in the state in average series and he won the CIML Iowa meet individually against some stiff competition, including from his own team.
What sets Ferneau apart from other freshmen, Wilder said, is his ability to keep calm and cool throughout a meet, not letting anything get him too amped up or too down.
“He’s a freshman and you don’t have to worry about him getting too crazy with whatever, he’s just fine,” Wilder said. “That’s nice to know, I think that’s a calming aspect for this team.”
Ferneau said there’s nothing special he does to make him so stoic, it’s just the way he is.
“It’s just how I approach it. I don’t really try thinking about adjustments as much unless I actually need it,” Ferneau said. “It’s pretty much just doing it and not thinking about it.”
Proffitt had to fight for his spot on the varsity roster, and at the beginning of the year he wasn’t listed in the final six spots. But he kept persevering, and soon enough he wasn’t just a regular on the varsity squad, he was a major contributor, even finishing in the top four at the district meet.
“I kept telling myself I need to keep working harder and harder so I could get onto varsity this year, and none of the guys even expected me to make varsity this year, so I think that’s pretty cool for myself,” Proffitt said.
The growth Proffitt has shown wasn’t something small, and as he said even his teammates took notice.
“I’ll give Logan a shoutout, he really made some big improvements this year,” Chizek said. “He was kind of middle JV last year, I tried to help him out a little bit here and there, but at the beginning of this season he shot up and he’s been doing great.”
Wilder went so far as to say Proffitt could play a big part in his team coming away with a state title on Wednesday.
“The X-factor is Logan, and I think he’s going to be fine,” Wilder said. “He is going to probably have a little nervous start, but by the end of it once he gets settled in he will be fine too.”
Despite how his team has looked in recent weeks, Wilder said that doesn’t make them unbeatable. In fact, the Bobcats don’t have the top qualifying score, that belongs to Cedar Falls and its 3,357, a full 127 pins higher than Marshalltown’s mark.
“I feel like any one of the seven other teams that are there can beat us, but I have huge faith in my team that we are going to score as well as we can,” he said. “They are going to give 100 percent their best effort and the chips will fall where they will. I am not concerned about what Cedar Falls does, I’m not concerned about what any of the other teams do, I am concerned with what my six guys do, and that’s all I can be concerned with.”
While other teams have ability, Kramer said what sets his team above the others is that pain from missing their shot a year ago, and their desire for redemption.
“It hasn’t left my mind since the last state tournament,” Kramer said. “I just want the big one, I know we all do, that’s what we’re here for.”
Due to the potential for bad weather, the 3A state bowling tournament was rescheduled to start 11:30 a.m. Thursday in Waterloo at Cadillac Lanes.
Pep rally for state-bound bowlers
The Marshalltown High School boys bowling team will hold a pep rally and state tournament send-off on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Wayward Social.
The Bobcats are headed to the Class 3A state tournament for the fifth year in a row. The tournament will be held at Cadillac Lanes in Waterloo starting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.