The moment the ball left Shelby Hall’s hand, she figured she was doomed.
Splits are tough enough to pick up and Hall was looking at the daunting 6-7-10 version. Having the a third pin present helped increase the Yelm High School senior’s confidence as she surveyed the shot, but whatever hope she had was all but dashed after an awkward throw.
She watched uninspired as the ball initially rolled down lane number 3 at Prairie Lanes – the home venue of the Tornados bowling team.
Hall’s perceived mishandled release, however, lined up perfectly. The ball smashed into the middle of the two pins right before the 6 pin violently kicked over to the left, striking down the 7.
“It was completely by accident because I accidentally dropped the ball,” Hall said. “It didn’t curve as much as I usually throw. I just kept thinking, ‘Please don’t go in the gutter.’”
Not a single strike on the day would get as much fanfare as Hall’s eighth frame spare, and while Yelm didn’t need the thrilling shot to put away visiting Gig Harbor in 3A South Sound Conference play, it certainly gave the Tornados yet another thing to cheer about during the season.
A year after being co-conference champions, Yelm put together another strong campaign this year, winning 10 matches to finish third overall in the 3A SSC.
The goal now is to accomplish something that’s never been achieved before in the program’s 17-year history – advance the team to the state meet.
“We always have the goal to take an entire team to state,” said head coach Stacy Roe, who started the program in 2002. “We haven’t been able to experience that. We’ve been really close on a couple occasions, especially the last couple of years and five years ago. In a one-day format, you’re either on or you’re not.”
In the second half of the regular season, the Tornados have definitely been on. Since dropping a match to Capital, Yelm posted a 4-1 record with the highlight coming in a 3-2 victory over previously undefeated North Thurston, a squad which bested the Tornados, 4-1, to open the year.
“I think you can really see how much we’ve improved since the start of the year,” said junior Gracie Mathis, who joins Hall, Kaylee Schilter, Lara Skinner, and Bethany Place to comprise the varsity. “We’ve grown as a team and as individuals.”
All five varsity members believe it’s enough growth to take them to state.
The Tornados open postseason play with the SSC bowling tournament on January 18 at the Westside Lanes.
The district tournament follows with the top finishers heading to the state tournament January 31 – February 2 at the Narrows Plaza Bowl in University Place.
“This year is going to be a cutthroat kind of thing,” Roe said about the SSC tournament. “We have eight teams in the league. We get four team spots to the district tournament. Our league champion automatically gets one of those spots. This is the first year in 17 years where we have six teams that on any given day can win the tournament. We’ve had three or four teams that could win the tournament in the past, but never this many.”
While lacking state experience as a team, Yelm has a lineup featuring several players with individual state experience in Mathis, Place, Hall, and Schilter – a transfer from Shelton where she was a three-time state participant.
“We’re going to have to lean on Kaylee a lot. She’s been there as part of a team before. She helped Shelton take fifth place last year,” Roe said. “The last two years we’ve taken three individuals, but none of us has experienced it as a team.”
Leading the charge is sophomore Place, who has positioned herself in just two years to rewrite just about every school record.
Place finished the season with a 163 per game average – a figure which trails only the 166 game average Jackie Hartman put up in 2004 as the program’s single season record. In addition, she posted a two-game series total of 391, a mark that is three points off the school record.
“Jackie Hartman owned a lot of those records,” Roe said, “but Bethany has a chance to put her name right on the top of all those different categories and it’s done through hard work.”
Place, whose high game this year is 205, is hardly the only one in the group putting up stellar numbers. Mathis is second on the squad with a 157 average, while Schilter clocks in at 155. Skinner has bowled a 191 this season with Hall’s benchmark sitting at 181.
“It’s definitely a motivation to see them put up those scores,” said Mathis, who posted a six-game average of 135.7 at last year’s state meet. “You’re happy for them and cheering them on, but at the same time you’re thinking, ‘Now I have to go out there and do better.’ It pushes us.”
The Tornados are now hoping it pushes them right into state as a team for the first time in program history.