Feb. 9—OTTUMWA — Only two meets matter all season to the Ottumwa High School bowling team.
One comes up next week. For the Ottumwa girls, it'll be Monday at the Wayward Social in Marshalltown. For the Ottumwa boys, it'll be Tuesday at the Rose Bowl in Muscatine.
Both Bulldog bowling squads will be hoping to book tickets to the Iowa High School State Bowling Tournament in Waterloo, the second meet on the schedule that truly matters. That doesn't mean that the Ottumwa bowlers haven't gained a from the many meets the teams have competed in over the past two weeks.
Both squads had impressive showings at Cadillac XBC this week at the home site of the state bowling tournament. Both teams posted their best team scores of the season at the Iowa Alliance Conference tournament with the Ottumwa girls edging Des Moines Lincoln for the south division team title with a score of 3,184 while the Ottumwa boys finished third in a tight battle with Des Moines East and Des Moines Lincoln, posting a score of 2,945 finishing just 45 pins shy of Lincoln for the south division crown.
"I thought the girls were focused all day and especially during the baker rounds," Ottumwa head coach Doug Techel said. "We were down seven pins heading into bakers and down as many as 30 pins going into the last two games."
The Ottumwa girls saved the best for last, tying Des Moines Lincoln after posting a fourth baker game of 226. With the conference title on the line, the Bulldogs clinched the championship with a baker game of 206 beating the Railsplitters by 20 pins.
"I couldn't be more proud of what our team accomplished," Techel said. "Every bowler contributed to the victory."
That contribution was evident in the number of all-conference honors earned by the Ottumwa bowling team. Hannalee Songer, Brooklyn Welch and Mackenzie Clubb earned first-team honors by posting three of the top six individual scores in the tournament while Katelin Valentine and Madi Greene earned second-team honors.
The Ottumwa boys, meanwhile, also had four bowlers earn all-conference honors. Josh Lee posted a 698 three-game series total to lead the Bulldogs, joining Aiden Hoskins as first-team all-conference honorees while Tayte Walker and Brayden Hopkins earned second-team all-conference accolades for their play on Wednesday.
"Posting our best score of the season is a good sign heading into state qualifying," Ottumwa head boys bowling coach Tom Maher said. "We're close to where I thought we would be with the amount of talent we have. They're positive. They're upbeat and they've made shots. They haven't wilted. That's a good sign right out of the gate."
Ottumwa's late-season preparation for state qualifying began at home against Keokuk as the Bulldogs finally hosted their home baker tournament, competing against the Chiefs in 15 baker qualification games leading into a pair of best-two-out-of three championship matches. The Ottumwa girls dominated from the start, gaining an advantage in seven of the first 15 games on the way to posting a team score of 2,860, almost 100 pins better than the 2,779 in 15 games that Ottumwa used to win a regional title and a state tournament berth at Bowlerama Lanes in Des Moines last year.
"Whether it's one team or eight teams, it doesn't matter. It got us back into feeling what bowling 15 baker games is like," Techel said. "We not only bowled better in the 15 bakers games, but we also bowled better in the games when it really counts."
Those would be the games in the championship series. Ottumwa swept Keokuk 180-147 and 166-148, winning their home baker tournament for the second straight year.
"Keokuk actually beat us in three of the last five games during the qualification rounds, so they came into that championship match somewhat hot," Techel said. "You've got to put it all together to win. That the experience these girls needed."
The Ottumwa girls carried that experience over to a third-place finish at Muscatine's home baker tournament last weekend. Ottumwa posted the second-best score in qualifying among the 17 teams in the tournament, then edged Durant 2-1 in the quarterfinals before falling to 1A state championship hopeful Louisa-Muscatine in the semifinals before sweeping two games from Clinton in the third-place match.
The Ottumwa boys, meanwhile, also baker success winning their portion of the home tournament against Keokuk after initially being edged by the Chiefs in the 15 games of qualification by 45 pins. The Bulldogs responded with a 227-156 win in game one of the championship match before clinching the title winning 214-207 in a tense second game with three strikes in the final frame by Walker clinching the title.
"It's probably the best feeling in bakers to come through as the anchor," Walker said. "Knowing I have the respect of my coaches and my team to be in that position and knowing that they trust me to get the pins we need is a good feeling."
Daltin Maas rolled his highest two-game series of the year for the Ottumwa boys on Monday during an Iowa Alliance south dual at Des Moines East, rolling a 417 against the Scarlets. The Bulldogs also added a 246 closing baker game finishing off a 2,717 finishing 168 pins short.
"I'm excited to continue with this team. When we started getting up and getting excited against Keokuk in those championship baker games, that's the best I've seen our team come together," Walker said. "We need to get loud and stay loud. When we do that, you can see a change in our body language and you see that score go up."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.