Thomas Jefferson strikes success early in bowling season

Decatur, TJ prove to be fierce competitors in NPSL.

Bowlers from Decatur and Thomas Jefferson make rolling strikes look easy.

The two undefeated high school girls bowling teams went head-to-head on Tuesday with the Thomas Jefferson Raiders coming out victorious at Secoma Lanes in Federal Way.

To the soundtrack of bowling balls thundering down the lane followed by the crash of the pins, Thomas Jefferson held onto their undefeated title with a 4-1 win, although it’s still early in the season.

“They’re a team that has gotten so much better,” said TJ head coach Joseph Townsend about Decatur. “I’m so proud of their group. They’re going to have a very good season. [Tuesday’s game] was awesome because of the great competition.”

While the Raiders won the battle, TJ’s team has sights set on bigger goals than just the NPSL, he said. Last year the Lady Raiders finished second in the WIAA State Bowling Championship and after competing at nationals, placed 14th in the nation, both of which they hope to repeat this season.

“For us, we’ve been constantly getting a little bit better each year,” Townsend said. “We have amazing young ladies with a high level of talent, we’re super lucky …”

Entering his fifth year coaching for TJ, Townsend said the sport is a hidden treasure for athletes.

“Coaching bowling is different than other sports,” Townsend said. “People always look at it as something you do super recreationally, at birthday parties or something to do on a random Saturday afternoon with friends. But if you delve into it, it’s a highly competitive sport.”

Many people are unaware of the scholarship opportunity with bowling and the chance to play at collegiate level, he said.

TJ’s team of 20 comprises many seniors, but also welcomed a large group of talented freshmen this year, Townsend said.

“Any time you taste success for consecutive seasons, there’s a tendency to fall back on ‘Oh, we can do whatever we want and still be successful,’” he said.

To avoid this, Townsend and his assistant coach consistently teach the mindset of working hard to earn each win, he said.

“I’m the worst loser, I hate losing more than I love winning,” Townsend said with a chuckle. “Anytime we bowl anyone … the target is on our back because of the fact that we’ve achieved what we’ve achieved. [Competitors] think ‘If we beat them, it’s Christmas,’ … so we’re trying not to allow anyone to feel like it’s Christmas.”

For TJHS seniors Whitney Lee and Haylee Pollard, this season is their final time to make history.

“I want to make this season the best because it’s our last season and I want to end with a bang and have fun with it,” Lee said.

Both girls have bowled all four years. Whitney Lee has been a stud of the district since her first year, along with Haylee Pollard, Townsend said.

Last year’s success does add pressure, which both girls say they thrive off of.

“I love pressure,” Pollard said. “It’s make-or-break … When you’re standing up there, I love when you have that pressure of ‘You have to get this shot,’ and you do it, it’s one of the best feelings you can have, knowing you picked it up for your team.”

A quote from coach Townsend also encourages common goal attitude.

“Another thing I really love about pressure is one of the quotes that coach always tells us is: ‘How can you be great on your worst day?’ That’s my favorite,” Pollard said.

Even when your own performance isn’t great, it encourages the girls to be great teammates regardless, she said.

“You can’t get down on yourself because other people are relying on you and we’re all a team. We need to be there for each other,” Pollard said.

As for Decatur, the Gators narrowly missed a chance at state last year and are still fierce competitors in the league.

“Last season we had a very strong year and we grew the program to new levels, which has carried over to this year,” said Decatur head coach Mike David. “Our long-term goal is to go deeper into the state tournament than we did last year. Last year we barely missed going to state, but we did take a few individuals to bowl at state. I think we have a team strong enough to make it this year.”

Strength is in numbers of the Gators this season.

“With a small army, we have lots of depth,” he said. “My second strength is the unity amongst the players. This is a very good group of young bowlers, they get along well and they support one another.”

David is a one-man show coaching a feisty team, fueled by team spirit and bowling alley French fries, with athletes from each grade.

“This year we have 34 girls who are bowling for us, which is more than any other team, and we have managed, even with only one coach, to get everyone to play and improve,” he said.

David said to keep an eye on Ruth Mangana, Natalie Hanse and Cece Greene as they dominate the district this season.

Success speaks — as do the bowlers. David said many of the girls told their friends about last season’s victories and the participation grew from last year.

“When people find out that something is both fun and success, they want to be a part of it,” David said.

Decatur faces Thomas Jefferson again this season Dec. 13 at Secoma Lanes.

Whitney Lee warms up before the game against Decatur on Tuesday, Nov. 27. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Whitney Lee warms up before the game against Decatur on Tuesday, Nov. 27. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo