By Chris McCarthy/Editor
The Southside High girls bowling team swept its way to the state championship and into school history in the AHSAA girls bowling tournament on Jan. 27 in Pelham.
The Lady Panthers (26-0) went 4-0 in match competition at Oak Mountain Lanes, including an 806-647 victory over Hartselle in the finals. It was the first-ever state title won by a Southside High varsity girls athletic team and the first state championship for a SHS team since the school’s wrestling team took home the first-place trophy in 2010. It is the seventh state title in school history.
“It took a total team effort to get through the tournament,” said Southside head coach Zack Blume said. “Those are some great teams we faced, and the girls just refused to quit. Most of the girls were on last year’s team, and they’ve been saying for a year that they couldn’t wait to get back. Our goal all year wasn’t just to get to state but to win it.”
The 16-team dual match single elimination bracket format combined Class 1A through 7A schools.
Although the Lady Panthers earned the No. 2 seed in pool play on Jan. 26, Blume noted that his girls were not happy with their performance. Southside opened single-elimination play with a 712-521 win over Foley in the first round, then defeated defending champion Sparkman, 810-703, in the quarterfinals.
“They came back really determined on Friday. We didn’t bowl great against Foley but we got the win. But we really picked it up against Sparkman. It’s like the light clicked on and the girls decided that it was time for them to win this thing.”
The win over the Lady Senators set up a semifinal showdown with county neighbor Etowah, who had defeated Southside in last year’s state quarterfinals. In a tight match, the Lady Panthers pulled out an 815-796 victory.
“I’ve been telling everybody all year that us and Etowah were the two best teams in the state, and we just happened to be [located] a few miles apart” said Blume. “It was an incredible match that really could have gone either way.”
Indeed, the match came down to the final bowler in the last frame – freshman Grace Ann Clontz, who threw a strike on her first attempt of the 10th frame. Her sister Jessica set up the winning shot with a spare in the ninth frame.
“That match took off about 10 years off my life,” Blume said with a laugh. “It almost felt like, if we could get past [Etowah], we could beat anybody. We had a little bit of a break after that match, so the girls were able to take a deep breath and relax a little bit.”
The Lady Blue Devils defeated Pelham, 750-640, and defending state champion James Clemens, 793-693, before falling short by only 19 pins against Southside.
“We bowled great, but Southside bowled a little bit better,” said Etowah head coach Kevin Horton. “We were averaging about a 155 [score], so we were closing out more frames that we were leaving open. But Southside wasn’t missing the really tough shots, and that‘s what you have to do to be a championship team. My hats off to them.”
Hartselle defeated No. 1 seed Thompson in the other semifinal. Southside’s 200 score in the second game against the Lady Tigers held up as the top individual game of the girls’ competition.
“That game really pumped up the girls and gave us a pretty nice lead,” said Blume. “After that we just had to hold on and make sure that we didn’t have any major screw-ups.”
Blume pointed out that every member of the team – seniors Selena Smith and Emily Garmon, junior Jakiia Mostella, freshmen Cheyanne Bohannon, Ashlee Hull and Grace Ann Clontz and eighth graders Jennifer Clontz and Jessica Clontz – contributed in some form or fashion.
“Emily has been with us since the day that they announced over the loudspeaker two years ago that the school was putting together a bowling team,” said Blume. “I think that she was the only person who was more nervous that I was during the Etowah match, but she didn’t let it show when she was throwing the ball. I really lucked out having her on the team for two years.
“Selena really carried us on Thursday. She came in off the bench and put up some good numbers. Selena hadn’t been bowling for as long as some of the other girls have, but she was a huge difference maker for us this week and all year long. If we had her last year, we might be talking about [winning] back-to-back [state titles].
“Ashley is the heart and soul of our team. As she goes, we go. She’s 14 and has the energy of a three-year old. She pumps everybody up. She’s our spark plug.
“Grace Ann is my anchor bowler. She was our best bowler average-wise throughout the year. If her two younger sisters (Jennifer and Jessica) don’t beat her out, she’ll be the best bowler in the state next year. Their dad David, who is our assistant coach, has had them bowling since they were in diapers. Without the twins, we wouldn’t have been close (at the state tournament).
“Jakiia is left-handed, which is a huge advantage because she can shoot it differently than the right-handers. Cheyanne is another spark for us off the bench who’ll be a starter for us in the future. She was huge for us at regionals. When it’s her turn, Cheyanne just goes out and performs.”
Blume felt that the relative youth of his squad helped rather than hindered the team with regard to the pressure-filled atmosphere in Pelham.
“I think that they were too young to realize that there was any pressure on them. There were games where we started three ninth graders and two eight graders. They got a good taste of this as middle schoolers last year, so they seemed ready to take on the pressure. They never wavered and I never saw any of them sweat. We won three regular season tournaments this year before winning regionals and state, and I never saw them look like they felt that they were in danger of losing. They’re incredible competitors for being so young.”
Jessica Clontz and TK Gibbs both made the all-tournament team.
In boys competition in Pelham, Gadsden City and Etowah both lost in the first round. The Titans fell to Stanhope Elmore, 877 to 713, while the Blue Devils came up short to East Limestone, 785 to 713.
In the girls’ traditional three-round seeding play on Jan. 26, the Lady Panthers finished runner-up to Thompson, 2,198 to 2,396. Etowah took third place with a 2,195 total score. In individual play, Jessica Clontz came in third with 507 score. T.K. Gibbs took seventh place with a 487 score, while Lexi Gibbs came in 11th with a 468 score.
In boys’ action on Thursday, Gadsden City took 14th place with an overall score of 2,404.
Etowah’s Christian Dobbs of Etowah rolled the best individual game on Thursday at 277 in game three. He finished 11th overall with a 595 series. The Blue Devils came in 15th with a 2,365 score.
Etowah girls team members were seniors Katie Parrish and Emma Jones, junior TK Gibbs and Lexi Gibbs, sophomore Shy Gibbs and eighth grader Kinzlon Gibbs.
“I thought that our girls did a phenomenal job the whole season,” said Horton. “They competed to the best of their ability and did what they were supposed to do, and I couldn’t have asked any more from them. We’ll miss Katie and Emma, but we have a lot coming back. I like our chances for next year.”