The Highlands Bluebirds bowling teams enter their ninth seasons knowing it will be unlike the previous eight because of Coronavirus 2019 restrictions.
But the teams are determined not to take advantage of the time given on the lanes. The biggest adjustment is the team's home alley is Super Bowl Bellewood in Woodlawn after LaRu closed down in the spring. Bellewood may be bigger. But the teams have to share it with a couple other schools.
Highlands second-year Head Coach Andy Eckerle said there will be limited capacity at matches like what the fall teams saw. But the biggest thing is the bowlers have to make sure they use their own equipment.
"It's really about maintaining your own space," Eckerle said. "We'll be competing against other teams. But we'll kind of be in our own little bubble so to speak working our own lanes. They'll be working their lanes separate. We'll be wearing masks around the lanes. But when you're bowling, you can take your mask off."
Eckerle is real excited about the experience on the girls side starting with the return of seniors Abby Bach, Tessa Killen, Amanda Parrott and junior Kristen Egan. They've helped the Highlands girls to their first-ever state tournament win two years ago against Harrison County. The team did not make the state tournament last year losing 3-1 to Simon Kenton in the Region 5 semifinals last year.
Individually, Killen finished sixth in the region tournament last year and Bach finished seventh. Bach qualified for the state tournament individually as a freshman and sophomore in 2019 and 2018. She made it to the state semifinals in 2019 placing eighth.
"I feel like our prospects are pretty strong," Eckerle said. "I'm looking forward to a really great season with them. I would assume our chances of getting to state are pretty strong. If we can ride their shoulders, we'll be good to go."
Junior Madison Clore also returns from last season. Some soccer players decided to give bowling a shot this year.
"They have some sports background so they know how it works," Parrott said. "They're eager to learn and the three (experienced) seniors are eager to teach them. Whatever we can do, we're going to make it the best season we can."
This will mark the last season with a Parrott sister on the team. Parrott's older sisters Abbey and Erin also donned the Blue and White over the years.
"Every year, they get introduced to new bowlers," Eckerle said of the four experienced bowlers. "In the last two years, I've tried to fill the rosters so can have a girls team so they can succeed. This year is no different than the last one. Every year, they seem to be okay with educating the new people on how to bowl and welcoming them with open arms. This year is no exception."
Highlands owns six appearances in the state tournament. The Bluebirds own three region championships with the last one coming in 2018.
Eckerle noted last year things will look different this season as a result of the transition. The Bluebirds graduated five seniors in Gunner Gabbard, Jordan Cole, Perry Daniel, Zane Goodwin and Jonathan Egan. Gabbard and Cole individually qualified for the state tournament with Cole finishing 10th.
Highlands missed the state tournament for the fourth straight year. But the Bluebirds did have a unified team make state. Eckerle is looking for senior Kyle Tierney and sophomore Jake Veneman to lead the way.
"I think with the limited amount of play we're going to get this year, I think we're going to do fairly well," Eckerle said. "My hope is for those guys to teach the others how to stay composed and bowl some good matches."
Tierney admits to not being outspoken. He has other ways to lead as a result. The other senior on the team is Aaron Cunningham.
"Being a leader is something I have to push myself to be," Tierney said. "In terms of helping the other bowlers, it's whenever I see them doing something I know is wrong or I see them struggling, I usually try to watch the next time they bowl in order to evaluate what they're doing wrong and help them."
Eckerle listed two others hoping to make an impact on the team this season. They are junior Aiden Haigis and sophomore Nick Gilkerson.
Highlands owns one Region 5 crown in 2016. The Bluebirds have been to state twice finishing state runner-up to Scott County in 2014. Andy Campbell captured the individual state championship in 2018.
The first two matches scheduled this week were called off. Matches can resume Jan. 4.
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