Although it wasn't the finish they had hoped for, Whitehall-Yearling High School girls bowling coach Jess Biller and senior Madison Stiffler left Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl on March 10 proud of their accomplishments.
The Rams qualified for their fourth consecutive Division I state tournament, but again fell short for reaching championship play.
Whitehall finished ninth (3,195) of 16 teams in qualifying play behind first-place Gahanna (3,389) and eighth-place North Canton Hoover (3,231) as the top eight teams advanced.
"Of course, we hoped to get much further than this, but it's been a great year," said Biller, who is stepping down after 11 seasons. "We reached every goal we set. We won the Mid-State League, we won our (division in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference and) we went undefeated in our division. We won numerous tournaments, so we have to go out of here with our heads held high."
Gahanna went on to defeat Kettering Fairmont three games to none in the best-of-five Baker games final.
The Rams finished 15th last season, ninth in 2016 and 16th in 2015.
Stiffler, who will bowl at Wright State, closed her stellar prep career by finishing fourth of 104 bowlers with a 660 three-game series to earn first-team all-state honors. Tyahana Elder of Twinsburg won with a 729.
"It's definitely not a way to end your senior season not making the cut (as a team), but we had so much fun," Stiffler said. "I shot pretty well. I threw the ball really well all day and felt good and confident. I just didn't get the good carry. ... I definitely left a name for myself around here."
Stiffler won the individual state title in 2016 with a 719. She finished second last season (659) and ninth in 2015 (586).
Senior Makayla Barber also closed a strong prep career by tying for 21st overall and finishing second among area bowlers with a 590.
Senior Alexis Stiffler tied for 71st (485), followed by sophomore Sydney Weatherby (469, 75th) and junior Khylie Hardy (342, two games, 82nd).
Whitehall qualified for state by finishing second (3,438) at district March 3 at HP Lanes behind Gahanna (3,596) and ahead of Westerville Central (3,360) as the top three teams advanced. Madison Stiffler led the Rams, finishing fourth (546) of 102 bowlers.
At sectional Feb. 24 at HP Lanes, Madison Stiffler earned medalist honors by finishing first (677) of 208 bowlers as Whitehall was second (3,617) of 37 teams behind Gahanna (3,642).
The Rams won the MSL-Ohio tournament Feb. 3 at Wayne Webb's. They finished first (3,786) in preliminary play ahead of second-place Worthington Christian (2,911) and then defeated the Warriors in the Baker final.
Barber finished first (681) of 35 bowlers to earn league Bowler of the Year honors. Madison Stiffler was second (650), Alexis Stiffler was fourth (519) and Hardy was sixth (441).
Whitehall also won the COHSBC-D Division at 10-0 and finished first (3,395) in the nine-team COHSBC tournament Feb. 10 at Game of Western Columbus, ahead of runner-up Gahanna (3,344).
"I get to say goodbye to three seniors and the school gets to say goodbye to me," Biller said. "This is my last day of work."
Boys bowling team competes at state
The boys bowling team competed in its second consecutive Division I state tournament March 9 at Wayne Webb's.
The Rams finished 13th (3,116) of 16 teams during qualifying play behind first-place Cincinnati Oak Hills (3,737). The top eight teams advanced to championship play.
Celina went on to defeat Stow-Munroe Falls three games to one in the final.
Junior Jason Kefauver led the Rams, finishing eighth of 205 bowlers with a 654 series to earn second-team all-state honors. Senior A.J. Stiffler was 61st (531), followed by junior Brandon Shaw (478, 69th), senior Charles Clark (352, two games, 82nd), freshman Elias Rozzelle (164, one game, 193rd) and senior Austin Gilbreath (145, one game, 201st).
"It was a great season," coach Tavi Netotian said. "We won the MSL tournament and (placed) third in the (COHSBC tournament). Out of almost 600 teams, a lot of them would have loved to be here (at state). We had a rough start. The first game (767) was really bad. We dug a big hole."
Whitehall qualified for state by finishing third (3,580) of 16 teams at district March 3 at HP Lanes behind Westerville Central (3,907) and Marion Harding (3,645) and ahead of fourth-place Gahanna (3,529) as the top three teams advanced.
Kefauver led the Rams, finishing third (606) of 105 bowlers.
The Rams finished fifth (3,439) of 38 teams at sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes behind champion Central (3,836) as the top 16 teams advanced to district. Kefauver was third of 220 bowlers with a 589.
Whitehall won the COHSBC-D at 12-0 and was third (3,462) in the nine-team COHSBC tournament behind champion Central (3,803).
The Rams also won the MSL-Ohio tournament, defeating Bexley in a semifinal and Worthington Christian in the final of the Baker games competition. They finished first (4,117) in preliminary play, ahead of second-place Grandview (3,799).
Shaw was first of 39 bowlers with a 738 series to earn Bowler of the Year honors. Kefauver was third (627) and Stiffler was eighth (545).
Move to Division I was tough on wrestlers
After having at least one state qualifier for eight years in a row, the wrestling team failed to have a competitor reach state for the second consecutive season.
Coach Steve Pennington said the move from Division II to Division I this season played a role.
"It had a lot to do with it," he said. "We were in the toughest district in the state of Ohio. You make it out of that district, you're pretty tough. We were prepared, (but) it's just a tough district being (in) D-I now."
The Rams competed in the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Perrysburg, with senior Assante Ndongo (heavyweight), junior Luke Gibson (138 pounds) and freshman Jace Peck (113) going 1-2 and sophomores Steven Fancelli (106) and Andrew Dickens (195) finishing 0-2.
Whitehall tied for 31st (4 points) behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (284.5) as 36 teams scored. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Ndongo led a three-member senior class, finishing 38-8. Dickens finished 27-16, Gibson went 21-12, Fancelli finished 21-18 and Peck went 19-20.
In a nine-team sectional Feb. 24 at home, Whitehall finished fourth (119.5) behind champion Ashland (304) as Ndongo won the heavyweight title.
Led by Gibson, who went 4-0 at 138 with four pins, Whitehall finished third (161) in the MSL-Ohio tournament Feb. 3 at home behind Bexley (195) and London (192.5) and ahead of Grandview (133) and Columbus Academy (71).
Others eligible to return are juniors Alex Rodriguez (132/138) and Raashad Strickland (113), sophomore Carter Paddock (113) and freshmen Peter Gibson (220/heavyweight), Bradley Holley (182), Harley White (152), David Wiengarner (160) and David Woods (220).
Strickland missed the season with a left ACL injury sustained during football.
Senior Justin Peck went 26-9 at 170 and finished sixth at sectional. Skylar Watts (113/120) was the other senior.
"All three seniors were in the program all four years," Pennington said. "They're good kids (and) hard workers. It's tough to see them go."
@ThisWeekFrankAt a glance
*Record: Boys -- 12-1 overall, 12-0 (first) in COHSBC-D; Girls -- 10-1 overall, 10-0 (first) in COHSBC-D
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Charles Clark, Austin Gilbreath, Trevor Jensen, Kadin Pauley and A.J. Stiffler; Girls -- Makayla Barber, Alexis Stiffler and Madison Stiffler
*Key returnees: Boys -- Jason Kefauver, Elias Rozzelle and Brandon Shaw;
Girls -- Khylie Hardy, Shyanne Reese and Sydney Weatherby
*Finishes: Third in MSL-Ohio, fourth at sectional, tied for 31st at district
*Seniors lost: Assante Ndongo, Justin Peck and Skylar Watts
*Key returnees: Andrew Dickens, Steven Fancelli, Luke Gibson and Jace Peck