Photo: The Southside High School girls varsity bowling team won a second straight AHSAA state championship on Jan. 26 in Pelham. Pictured, sitting, from left: Rose Losco, Jennifer Clontz, Jakiia Mostella, Cheyanne Bohannon. Standing, from left: assistant coach David Clontz, Grace Ann Clontz, Jessica Clontz, Ashlee Hull, head coach Zack Blume.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For the second year in a row, Southside High finished at the pinnacle of girls bowling.
The Lady Panthers defeated Stanhope Elmore, 1,408 to 1,307, to claim a consecutive AHSAA state championship on Jan. 26, at Oak Mountain Lanes in Pelham.
Southside (26-2) outscored the Lady Mustangs, 918-794, in the traditional round and then overcame a 185-148 deficit in the second Baker format game to close with a 177 to seal the win. Stanhope also posted a 177 but the 124-pin deficit in the traditional game was too much to overcome.
Southside head coach Zack Blume noted that his girls’ experience from last year served them well after Stanhope Elmore seized the early momentum in the finals. The Lady Panthers found themselves 50 pins behind after the first four frames when Blume gathered the team together.
“I basically reminded them that if they had an extra gear that they could turn on, now was the time to do it.”
Sophomores Ashley Hull and Grace Anne Clontz proceeded to throw seven and six strikes in a row, respectively, to give Southside the lead for good.
“Those two girls just picked up and carried our team,” said Blume. “But I never saw any panic from any of our girls, because they’ve all been there before. They knew what they had to do and it was just a matter of going out there and doing it. They weathered the storm, which showed their mental toughness. Mike Tyson used to say that everyone has a plan until they punched in the mouth. We got punched in the mouth but we got up and hit them back.
“I think us having been champions and them not was a huge difference. I don’t think Stanhope Elmore knew quite how to respond after we hit them back as hard as we did.”
The Lady Panthers used another strong traditional round to beat Auburn 1,302 to 1,153 in the semifinal round. Freshman Jessica Clontz rolled a 194 to pace the Lady Panthers.
After posting a 1,319 to 1,103 victory over Capitol School of Tuscaloosa in the first round, Southside beat Hartselle, 1,208 to 1,034, in the quarterfinals. The Lady Panthers then defeated Auburn, 1,302 to 1,153, in the semifinals to set up a defense of their state title.
Blume pointed out that not only did his team accept the expectations that accompanies a defending state champion, they thrived under the pressure of having a target on their backs.
“Last year I think we kind of snuck up on people,” said Blume. “We were the little girls from wherever Southside was, and this year everybody knew who we were. We’re not making friends anywhere with how much we keep winning.
“I think that us getting beat a couple of times this year was the best thing that could have happened, because it kind of re-focused the team. Before that, I think the girls were putting too much pressure on themselves to keep the winning streak going and being too perfect.”
Six of the seven members of the 2017 state championship team returned this year, which Blume said was a big factor in his team’s grace under pressure.
“If anything, our chemistry this season was even better than last year. These girls love each over and they’re a family, and when they needed to come together, they stepped up their game and played like champions. These girls put their egos aside and said, “Let’s go win this thing.’”
With 2,249 total pins in the qualifying round, Southside entered the elimination round as the fourth seed behind Thompson (2,631), Stanhope Elmore (2,446) and Sparkman (2,330). Etowah finished sixth with 2,193 total pins.
“With the exception of Jessica Clontz, we really didn’t bowl well in the qualifying round on (Jan. 25). When things got down for us, she was just steady and kept doing what she needed to do. We
had a pretty rough road getting to the finals after we qualified fourth, and we lucky that we didn’t dig ourselves a bigger hole. But our girls’ confidence was never going to waver no matter who they’re facing. They feel like they can beat anybody.”
Jessica Clontz and Grace Anne Clontz made the all-state team. Jessica was an all-state selection in 2017 as well.
Blume credited the team’s lone senior, Jakiia Mostella, for helping to keep the team together during the tournament.
“She kept our girls’ heads in the game when they started to lose it a little bit, especially during qualifying. Being a senior, Jakiia wanted to step up and go out a champion again, and she was able to do that.”
Blume, who recently was selected as the National Federation of State High School Association’s 2016-17 Alabama Coach of the Year for girls bowling, credited the large turnout of supporters during the tournament as a factor in his team’s success.
“We had the biggest crowd of Southside people we’ve ever had at the state tournament, and the girls were all excited that they had friends there. That made a big difference. When [SHS principal Chris] Winningham told me last year that no girls team had ever won a state championship, I couldn’t believe it. Now there’s two teams that have done it.
“When they’re loose and having fun, this is a great team,” he added. “When they’re focused and on a mission, they’re unstoppable.”
This article was supplemented by ahsaa.com.