So far, Packers remain unbeaten
There’s only one week left in the regular season
By Scott A. Kolb
Rolling along with a 14-0 record, the Austin High bowling team is on the way to its second straight undefeated regular season.
With just a week left in the regular season schedule, the Austin Packers are one of only four unbeaten teams in the state. At various junctures throughout the season, which started in mid-August, the AHS bowlers have been ranked at the No. 1 spot in the state.
There are 11 bowlers on the Austin team. Six bowlers are on the varsity and the other five compete on the junior varsity. The Packers play on Saturdays and the season culminates with the state tournament early next month.
In the weekend matches, the teams use the Baker system, which has five bowlers each shooting two frames. They split it up with a 1-6 alignment for the frames, then it moves to 2-7, and so on up to the decisive 10th frame.
"The team has done a good job of staying consistent all season, and they’re getting ready for the conference roll-off next week," Austin coach Russ Osier said. "With only two frames individually in each match, they have to be ready. I always tell them it’s about 30 seconds of excitement followed by 15 minutes of waiting to bowl again. They’re a great group of kids and we have a lot of fun."
Jesse Duholm and Joe Tabor are the assistant coaches who help Osier get the team prepared for each match. Osier is in his second season of coaching the Austin High bowlers.
Competing in the Southeast Western Conference, the Packers are one of five teams in the league. Austin also incorporates Southland into the bowling program. Austin/Southland leads the league with a 190.8 average for pins per match.
Hayfield, Stewartville, Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa, and Byron/Kasson-Mantorville are the other teams in the league. Austin has won the conference title for the last three seasons and advanced to state. It takes a complete coaching effort to keep the team bowling at such a high level.
"We usually take a pair of lanes to coach the kids during practice," Tabor said. "We try to work with them on technique. Consistency is the hardest thing to teach, but the team has done a good job of closing out matches to stay unbeaten."
Senior Chris Koppa was the league’s Most Valuable Player last season, and he’s once again near the top of the fill percentage list in conference matches. This figure compiles an individual bowler’s percentage of strikes and spares.
The top eight finishers in fill percentage are then named to the all-conference team. Koppa has thrown a total of 64 strikes and 42 spares on the season.
"I’m still riding off the confidence from being named the MVP last season, and it’s helped me to bowl better this season," Koppa said. "We have good balance on the team, and that’s how we’ve been able to win close matches. We try not to worry about the undefeated record and just focus on getting back to the state tournament."
Matt Breitbarth of Austin tops the conference list, while teammates Gage Morgan and Drew Osier are also among the top eight for fill percentage. Kody Phillips of Austin is currently ninth and has a good chance to move up by the end of the regular season. Lauren Schabert, a ninth-grader, also bowls with the varsity.
Breitbarth, a sophomore, has elevated the competitive level of his game this season. With a total of 65 strikes and 52 spares, Breitbarth is the best in the league.
"I’ve been getting into a good rhythm and rolling strikes," Breitbarth said. "You only get two frames in each match, and you have to come through for the team. We’re bowling hot right now and we hope to keep it up through the post-season tournaments."
Not only do the members of the team have a cooperative spirit, but their success is also due to the generosity of the management at the Echo Lanes bowling alley in Austin. General manager Mary Peterson of Echo Lanes has donated the lane time to the team for their practice sessions.
The final match of the regular season will take place on Saturday afternoon at Echo Lanes. The conference roll-off will then take place next Saturday at Colonial Lanes in Rochester.
"Echo Lanes not only donates the lane time, but they also pay the entry fee for the team," coach Osier said. "We are indebted to Mary, because without her support we couldn’t do what we’re doing. We’re here to let the kids have some fun, and try to make them better people.
"This is a sport they can play their whole lives. I’ve been bowling since I was eight, and it’s still a good time. We usually get a big crowd for the home matches and it adds to the momentum of the season.
There will be about 15 teams (varsity and junior varsity) here for the final regular season match, and it will be loud at Echo Lanes."
After completing the regular season and then the conference meet, the Austin bowlers will seek to make a better showing at the 24-team state tournament on Dec. 6 in Mounds View.
Austin has finished seventh during each of its last three trips to state.
AUSTIN HIGH BOWLING TEAM
Seniors — Chris Koppa, Drew Osier. Junior — Gage Morgan. Sophomores — Matt Breitbarth, Troy Peil, Chance Felten, Nick Downey. Freshmen — Cole Kroneman, Lauren Schabert. Seventh-graders — Kody Phillips, Collin Bailey.