Ever since being named coach of the Hilliard Darby High School boys bowling team, Bob Clute has looked forward to this season because it's the only one in which his sons, Andrew and Justin, will be on the team together.
It also could turn out to be the program's most successful season during his five-year tenure.
Darby defeated Worthington Kilbourne 2,071-1,914 on Dec. 21 to improve to 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-North Division.
The Panthers opened with a 1,999-1,976 loss to Bradley on Dec. 3 in a COHSBC-North and OCC-Capital Division match.
In other COHSBC-North matches, Darby beat Worthington Christian 2,130-1,836 on Dec. 7 and Big Walnut 2,067-1,966 on Dec. 20 and lost to Westerville North 2,193-2,163 on Dec. 11. It also defeated Watterson 2,075-1,935 on Dec. 18.
"I've definitely been looking forward to this year for a long time because I get to coach both my sons together and I figured this would be one of the strongest teams we've ever had," Clute said. "We're doing about as well as I expected and, after seeing the way we've started, I'd say this is definitely the strongest team, top to bottom, that we've ever had."
The Panthers feature five returning starters in seniors Eric Bennett, Andrew Clute and Aaron Wurdack and juniors Brant Hulteen and Jayde Leach. Freshmen Justin Clute and Philip Lichwa round out the roster.
"My sons and Jayde bowl year-round and Aaron has bowled in leagues for a long time," coach Clute said. "Brant puts a lot of time into the sport, too, so we have at least five solid bowlers."
Last year, Darby finished 9-7 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Capital to tie Olentangy Orange for second, behind Davidson (4-1) and ahead of Bradley (2-3), Olentangy Liberty (2-3) and Olentangy (1-4).
The Panthers placed fifth (7-5) in the 13-team COHSBC-North a year ago, behind co-champions Westerville North (11-1) and Jonathan Alder (11-1), and finished eighth (3,711) in the 24-team sectional at Columbus Western Bowl behind champion Jonathan Alder (4,020), as the top nine teams and top nine individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to district.
Darby concluded last season in the district tournament, as it finished 17th (3,238) of 18 teams at HP Lanes. The top three teams and top three individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to state.
"Our goals are to have a winning record and make it back to district," coach Clute said. "I don't know how realistic it is, but we're also shooting to make it to state."
Wildcats off to strong start
Davidson was 3-0 overall, 1-0 in the OCC-Capital and 3-0 in the COHSBC-North with a 2,100-1,920 win over Liberty on Dec. 18.
In other COHSBC-North matches, the Wildcats beat Thomas Worthington 1,961-1,809 on Dec. 5 and Gahanna 2,054-1,784 on Dec. 10.
Senior Ryan Bremer and junior Zach Starner have been leading the way for Davidson. Also on the team are seniors Justin Campbell, Michael Gronski and Jon Martin, junior Zach Miculka and freshman Jace Schneider.
Last season, Bremer had a team-high 190.4 game average through the regular season, followed by Martin (161.6).
"Our boys team is stronger than it's ever been," fourth-year coach Adrian Jasinski said. "If all seven members of our varsity team bowl to their potential, we can compete with anyone in the OCC and the entire city."
In addition to winning their first OCC-Capital championship a year ago, the Wildcats finished 7-6 overall and placed eighth (5-6) in the COHSBC-North.
Davidson finished 10th (3,511) in the sectional last season at Columbus Western Bowl to miss qualifying for district by one spot. Walnut Ridge (3,623) secured the final district-qualifying berth.
Bremer rolled a 615 series to tie for sixth at sectional and advance to district, where he finished 22nd (558).
"We'd like to go undefeated in the OCC," Jasinski said. "I have two individuals who can go to state (Bremer and Starner) and we have a real good freshman, so I think our team has a shot at state, too."
Jaguars looking to 'learn' and 'have fun'
Bradley lost to Thomas 2,087-1,833 on Dec. 20 to drop to 3-3 overall and 3-3 in the COHSBC-North.
The Jaguars are 2-0 in the OCC-Capital, having beaten Darby and Liberty (2,140-1,771 on Dec. 6).
In other COHSBC-North matches, Bradley beat Westerville Central 2,176-2,103 on Dec. 11 and lost to Westerville South 2,452-1,972 on Dec. 13 and Jonathan Alder 2,302-1,972 on Dec. 18.
The Jaguars have only one returning starter in sophomore Brandon Knadler. Also on the team are juniors Dustin Chandler, Andrew Jester and Kevin Pirt and sophomores Brady Hall and Brandon Richards.
"The big difference this year is that I have no seniors and only one returning starter," fourth-year coach John Thompson said. "The strength is their desire to learn and get better. The weakness is their youth. They get overwhelmed sometimes by better bowlers and don't focus on their game. As I tell them, there is no defense in bowling, only offense."
Last season, the Jaguars finished 8-9 overall and placed sixth (6-4) in the 12-team COHSBC-South behind champion Groveport (11-0). They moved to the COHSBC-North this season.
Bradley placed 15th (3,271) in the sectional last season at Columbus Western Bowl and had no individual district qualifiers.
"Our goals have always been the same -- come out, learn how to bowl and how to have fun bowling," Thompson said. "Everything else is icing on the cake."