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Armstrong's first-year bowling program rolls into championships

| Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

The trophy case at the new Armstrong High School might not be complete, but this week could yield the new school's first prize to showcase.

The first-year bowling program playing under the Riverhawks banner qualified its boys and girls teams for this week's Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Bowling League's team championships.

The boys championship is Wednesday at Nesbit's Lanes in Plum, and the girls championship is Thursday at Paradise Lanes on Neville Island. Both Armstrong teams are among 18 that qualified, and each earned a spot with an 8-2 record, good for second place behind Butler in Section 2.

Many of the teams competing are regulars at the championships, such as Plum, Butler and defending girls champion Hempfield. But Armstrong was able to make a first-year splash with a combination of talent and hard work.

“I'm really not surprised. I knew we had a shot to get there because we have some pretty good kids,” Armstrong coach Tom Shaner said. “Every one of them has stepped up each week.

“They listen, they want to get better and they've been improving every week.”

Armstrong's per-game averages this season suggest the team fits near the middle of the pack at the championships.

The boys team averages 910, which is 11th out of 18, while the girls' average of 700 is 16th out of 18. Both teams are peaking, however, as the boys' Week 10 three-game average was a 941, while the girls showed improvement with a 751 in the final week.

“I'd like to see us wind up somewhere in the top eight. That's what I'm shooting for, and I think it would be a major achievement for a first-year team,” Shaner said.

The Armstrong boys have been led by junior Jared Shaner, whose 210.03 average is second-best in Section 2 and make him a lock for the individual championships next month. He also rolled the section's best game, a 278, and his high series of 747 is the fourth-best in the WPIBL this season.

Shaner's teammates have posted consistent averages, led by junior Jacob Bowser's 183.6. Senior Josh Barnett (177.55), freshman Owen Zablocki (173.35) and junior Evan Shaffer (172.86) round out the Riverhawks' top five.

The girls are led by sophomore Cierra Gray (157) and freshmen Alexa Emmonds (153.04), both of whom have averages near the girls cut line for the individual championships. Junior Brittany Trithart (141.79) has Armstrong's third-best average, while four others — junior Danielle Boback, sophomore Lauren Rice, freshman Maddie Baillie and junior Katelyn Rumbarger — all have averages in the 130s.

“Since our coach put this team together, we're really striving to win and give it our all,” Gray said. “To have a team coming from a small town go up against some of these big schools that have been bowling for a long time, we're going to try our hardest.”

The most important thing for both teams, Tom Shaner said, is to bowl their own game and not get caught up in the size of the tournament or the championship moment.

If both teams do that and continue their trend of improving scores, a high finish could be within reach.

“I think it's really awesome that we have a chance to do this for a new school and a new sport,” Gray said. “Just to be in second place (in the section) with such a young team was big for us.”

As WPIBL finalists, both teams qualify for the state's Western Regional qualifier March 8.

Individuals whose season averages are among the top 74 will compete for the individual title March 7.

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