It had been a good season. But Angie Kensell knew the high school bowlers she was addressing had a chance to accomplish even more, and she let them know it.
“I just asked them, ‘Do you want to stay in third or do you want to go all the way?’ ” she said. “They went all the way.”
They were members of the Cony bowling team, named for traditionally being made up of Cony High School students, and they followed their coach’s charge. Cony won the Maine State U.S. Bowling Congress’s state tournament, defeating Andro Valley Gray, 3-0, in the final on March 5 to claim the state’s high school bowling title.
“We’ve been there, but we just haven’t finished strong like we did this year,” junior and captain Nate Boothby said. “I had my doubts about it in the beginning. But as the season progressed, the team showed me how well we worked together. We work as a team, we help each other.”
With bowling not sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association, the MSUSBC represents the top tier for the sport in the state at the high school level. The differences compared with more traditional sports continue in that Cony, which was started in 1999, isn’t officially affiliated with the school but uses the name due to its Augusta base, even though three Erskine Academy students (Alex Jones, Jacob Sutter and Mikey Dusoe) and a home-schooled Winslow resident, Ben Furrow, help make up the roster along with Cony students Boothby, Melody Harrington and Cady Beaulieu.
“It’s kind of like a co-op team, in a way,” Kensell said. “But it’s been called ‘Cony High School bowling’ forever.”
The lack of official backing means that running the Cony team is a volunteer operation, and Kensell has relied on outside support. Sparetime Recreation in Hallowell charged only $15 for hour-and-a-half practice sessions on Tuesdays during the season, which began in December. Rick Sutter, the owner of Legacy Home Improvements, picked up the season costs, something Kensell said he had been doing even before son Jacob joined the team this year. Augusta-based Twisted T’s provided the team with collared shirts for uniforms.
“We can’t thank them enough,” Kensell said.
One thing she didn’t have to find was talent. Bowling is a big deal for the Cony players, who have been polishing their games for years. Boothby, bowling since he was three years old, and Furrow are practicing to qualify for July’s Junior Olympic Gold, a national tournament that will be held in Cleveland. Four of Cony’s top five players — Boothby, Furrow and freshmen Sutter and Dusoe — compete in travel leagues. Furrow and Harrington work at Sparetime, and Harrington placed sixth in the state’s individual girls’ tournament.
“These kids will bowl any time they can,” Kensell said. “It’s their lives. They put a lot of effort into it.”
That talent manifested itself into a third-place finish for the regular season, and a berth in the eight-team state tournament at Skowhegan’s Central Maine Family Fun Bowling Center. The format was double-elimination and best-of-three, with a change to best-of-five for the final, and a baker system, meaning each team picked five bowlers to rotate through the 10 frames of a game. One bowler would roll frames 1 and 6, another would do 2 and 7 and so on, with the anchor bowler picking up frames 5 and 10.
That puts an emphasis on team play, and as the anchor, Boothby went about making sure his teammates were ready for the big stage.
“We had (two) freshman boys that just started this year, and knowing them, they were nervous,” he said. “Even when we started the first match, you could see it. … As a team captain, I’ve got to show them ‘This is what we need to do. Let’s relax, take a deep breath when we get up there. If you make a bad shot, the next guy will get up there and pick you up.’ “
The approach worked and the nerves faded, with Cony, featuring a lineup made up of Boothby, Furrow, Sutter, Jones and Dusoe, breezing by Skowhegan and Bangor by identical 2-0 scores, then topping Andro Valley Gray, 2-0, to reach the final. That meant a rematch with Andro Valley Gray, and even on the heels of a sweep, Boothby knew the games had been close enough to make the title match far from a sure thing.
“That was the close match,” he said. “Going back and forth, you had to make your spares or you had to leave something makeable. You either open once or twice, that could have been it for the game.”
The change to a best-of-five format gave Cony some margin for error — not that Kensell wanted that sinking into her players’ minds.
“I looked at them and I said ‘Okay, this is your chance. They have to beat us (three) different rounds, but if we win the first three games, it’s done, gone, goodbye. You ready to do this in three games?’ ” she said. “And they were all hyped up, and they didn’t disappoint me.”
Instead, Cony could hardly have been better. With a high game of 203, it swept by Andro Valley Gray again, finishing off a 9-0 romp through the tournament and earning a trophy that will be coming back to headquarters at Sparetime.
“I was amazed at how well we did against them in the final match,” Boothby said. “We didn’t lose our composure. We were just keeping everybody positive, not letting anybody get down on themselves. … It was an awesome feeling.”
And one that, with no seniors, Kensell said Cony hopes to experience again.
“When you have a good team that works together, sometimes that’s all you need,” she said. “That’s what my team did this year.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638