Four quality teams in the 3A GSHL but only two will advance to state
BATTLE GROUND — Right now, the Prairie Falcons are the best team in the best league in the state.
This is bowling, though.
The Falcons understand being the best right now does not mean much. They will have to be at their best on Jan. 31 at the district tournament.
After all, there are four quality teams in the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League. Only two get to go to state as full squads.
“It’s fun because you never know what’s going to happen that day,” said junior Anna Gatlin, Prairie’s top bowler this season.
“The challenge is what’s fun about it,” added team captain Lilly Bash.
Fun? Or stressful? Let’s call it both.
History suggests whichever teams make it out of district will have a great shot at winning it all.
Bowling in Southwest Washington is a powerhouse.
A year ago, Evergreen won its third consecutive state team title, with Prairie finishing in second place. In 2018 and 2017, it was Evergreen and Hudson’s Bay in the top two positions.
(Also, Mark Morris of Longview has won the past two 2A state titles.)
Back when 3A and 2A competed together, Columbia River won the 2015 state title.
This year, Evergreen and Prairie are tied atop the win-loss standings, each at 7-2 in league play. Prairie is averaging 2,090 pins a match in league play to Evergreen’s 2,022. (A quality score for a high school bowling match is 2,000. Prairie has passed the 2,000-mark in seven of its nine matches.)
It cannot be emphasized enough, though: The stats mean nothing come district tournament day. There are no seedings based on regular-season play. No byes. Every team has new life.
The Evergreen Plainsmen want to get back to state, to defend their titles.
The Fort Vancouver Trappers will be in the hunt, too.
Hudson’s Bay has the potential to make a run, as well.
Then there is Prairie. Second in state a year ago.
“Strive to be better this year,” Gatlin said.
Only one spot could be better.
“Motivated,” Bash said.
“When you look at the results each year, it’s loaded with girls from the 3A GSHL,” Prairie coach Rhonda Bash said. “We beat up on each other all season long. We bowl good here and get the win, then today wasn’t our day and we walk away with a loss.”
A year ago, Elissa St. Julian finished 12th at state as an individual, tops among the Prairie returners this season. It is Gatlin, though, who has improved to the point of being the top bowler on the squad so far this season. Her average is better than 180.
Personally, she wants to win a district title and then finish in the top 10 at state.
The Falcons, though, are more about team. In fact, when bowling was first sanctioned by the WIAA, it was only a team sport. Individual champions were not recognized.
At district, there are three traditional games for each team, plus seven Baker games. In a traditional game, a competitor bowls her 10 frames. In Baker games, five members of the team bowl a total of two frames each. For team scoring, all the pins are added up for placing.
Gatlin and Lilly Bash love the Baker games.
“It’s more of a team activity,” Bash said. “I am with my team, together, and we are supporting each other more.”
“It creates a better bond with the team,” Gatlin said.
At state, there are six traditional games plus 14 Baker games. A team can bounce back from a bad game or two at state, but it is tougher to do so at district.
Years ago, Rhonda Bash said, Prairie went undefeated in the regular season but failed to make it to state.
Advance or not, the 3A GSHL pulls for one another. There are rivalries in the sport, but they are friendly rivalries.
“I like how, even though we’re competitive, we’re still high-fiving the other teams,” Rhonda Bash said. “Good camaraderie among the girls, across the lines.”
That is another benefit of the sport.
“It has definitely improved my social skills and ability,” Lilly Bash said. “I was very awkward, not social. Once you are on a team, you reach out and meet new people and you meet people from other teams. It just builds your social skills.”
“It has made me a more open person,” she said. “I was very shy.”
No reason to be shy while bowling in the 3A GSHL.
No one knows which teams will advance to state, but all the competitors and coaches realize that those teams will have an opportunity to win a state title.