With seven players back, the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys bowling team is eying a return trip to the state tournament -- and a higher finish.
Last season, the Rams (2,981) were 16th in the 16-team qualifying round at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl behind first-place Beavercreek (3,676). Coldwater went on to win the state title, defeating Springfield Kenton Ridge 760-570 in the final.
"We want to build on that," sixth-year coach Tavi Netotian said of last season's state appearance. "It's not a given. Nobody is going to give you anything, but you know what it takes to get there. They do know and they actually listen real well."
The Rams opened the season by finishing fifth (3,190) in the 21-team Red and Blue Classic at HP Lanes on Dec. 1 behind champion Mechanicsburg (3,411).
After opening its Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-South Division schedule with a 2,192-2,156 loss to Teays Valley on Dec. 3, Whitehall defeated Groveport 2,351-1,662 on Dec. 10 and Marion-Franklin 2,219-1,627 on Dec. 13.
The Rams were 2-1 in the league before facing Columbus South on Dec. 17.
Back for the Rams is senior Chad Clites, who played a key role in the team's trip to state last season. He was averaging 188.7 through six games.
"We learned a lot from states last year from everything that happened," Clites said. "The team has grown a lot in just the last year. Everyone has a lot more fire. Everyone is ready just to step it up."
Also back are seniors Keith Lees and Schuyler Wright, juniors Andrew Sturgill and Noah Wiley and sophomores Maddux Russell and Paul Gress.
Other bowlers are freshmen Matthew Ebbesen, Dalyn Russell and Austin Wilson.
Through his first six games, Sturgill had the top average in the area at 218.3. Wiley was averaging 193.5, Wright 187 and Wilson 183.
Last season, the Rams tied Teays Valley for second (9-2) in the COHSBC-South behind Groveport (11-0).
Whitehall (3,924) was fifth in the 24-team sectional at Eastland Lanes behind champion Jonathan Alder (4,020) as the top nine teams advanced to district.
The Rams (3,769) were third in the 18-team district tournament at HP Lanes behind Jonathan Alder (3,962) and Westerville North (3,884) as the top three teams advanced to state.
Girls bowling team off to strong start
The girls team returns two bowlers from last season's district-qualifying squad in juniors Taylor Deskins and Taylor-Jo Morton.
Seniors Tabetha Baumann and Melanie Gilmer, who are new to the sport, and freshman Ashley Ford join Deskins and Morton in the starting lineup, sixth-year coach Jess Biller said.
Seniors Torri Barry and Mary Sidner and junior Hailey Reed competed for the junior varsity last season.
Other bowlers are sophomore Savanna Carrier and freshmen Erin Brown, Caitlin Hodge and Amanda Wyman.
Before competing against Columbus South on Dec. 17, the Rams were tied for first in the COHSBC-South with Briggs at 3-0.
Whitehall defeated Teays Valley 1,663-1,584 on Dec. 3, Groveport 1,676-1,415 on Dec. 10 and Marion-Franklin 1,643-1, 241 on Dec. 13.
Through six games, Gilmer was averaging a team-best 172.8, followed by Morton at 169.5.
"This team has really surprised me," Biller said. "On my varsity, I only have two returners. Melanie and Tabby had never bowled before and they have really improved. I've never seen two girls improve as quickly and as much as they have."
Last season, the Rams finished second (10-1) in the COHSBC-South behind Briggs (11-0) and ahead of Groveport (9-2).
Whitehall was third (3,142) in the 22-team sectional at Columbus Western Bowl behind Briggs (3,494) and Gahanna (3,327) as the top nine teams advanced to district.
The Rams were 11th (3,066) in the 18-team district tournament at HP Lanes behind champion Westerville Central (3,603) as the top three teams advanced to state.
"It's going to be a challenge to get back to district," Biller said.
"At the beginning of the season I wasn't even sure how many I was going to have try out. I was worried we wouldn't even have a varsity team, but we had a lot of girls show up."
Whitehall advanced to state in 2011 and finished 15th (2,900) of 16 teams in the qualifying field behind first-place Coldwater (3,390). St. Marys Memorial won the title.
"I feel like we can as long as we step our game up," Morton said of returning to state.
"There's some people that I know who can definitely get up to where they need to be for us to get to states."