Keeping things light paid off for the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls bowling team during the Division I state tournament March 10 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Assistant coach Dave Ferguson splashed blue paint on his beard as a sign of solidarity with the Lions' five competitors.
Head coach Kelly Ferguson spent the championship round wearing an empty popcorn bucket with eye holes after Gahanna rolled three consecutive Baker games of more than 200 to head into the championship round as the No. 1 seed.
The fun was culminated when the Lions were handed the state championship trophy, becoming the first girls program from central Ohio to capture the title in the history of the 12-year tournament.
"I feel like there's pressure all day," senior Briann McKnight said. "It's a big day, but I think we all knew that we had it in us and that we could do it. We really wanted this bad because we have three seniors and this was our last chance. We knew we could do it if we hung in there and did our best. We believed and it's just amazing we did it."
Things didn't start out as planned for the Lions, who finished eighth at state in 2016 and were sixth a year ago.
They were in 13th after rolling an 803 in the opening game but moved up to 10th after an 892 in the second game.
Then in the third game, the Lions rolled a program-record 1,051 to move up to fourth.
It was at that time that Ferguson told her bowlers that she'd wear the popcorn hat if they rolled three consecutive Baker games of 200 or better -- a feat the Lions accomplished with games of 225, 205 and 213 for a 3,389 total in the qualifying round.
There were 16 teams at state, and the top eight advanced to the championship round.
"We tried to keep it light and fun for them, and the girls just took off," Ferguson said. "I wore my bucket and they all signed it. It kept us all laughing and in a good mood. I think it really was just nerves that got the best of them the very first game, and once we got the nerves out and got to shake it out a little bit, we were able to turn it on a little bit. Getting the 1,051 series, that was awesome for the girls."
In the championship round, Gahanna beat North Canton Hoover 3-0 (225-162, 172-138, 199-170), Centerville 3-1 (178-181, 189-160, 210-149, 193-164) and Kettering Fairmont 3-0 (221-157, 218-175, 194-191) to capture the title.
McKnight tied for 26th (580) during the qualifying round, followed by junior Taylor Burns (31st, 574), senior Shannon Gonzales (36th, 565), freshman Lilu Smith (56th, 520) and senior Delaney Ferguson (tied for 63rd, 507).
"The day was just amazing," Delaney Ferguson said. "We struggled in the beginning, but we really came together."
The state championship capped a season of titles for the Lions.
They went 17-0 overall in Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference matches, including winning the COHSBC-A Division at 12-0, and went 6-0 to win the OCC-Central.
The Lions then rolled a 3,652 to win the sectional title Feb. 24 at HP Lanes and a 3,596 to capture the district title March 3 at HP Lanes. Gonzales was district medalist with a 581.
In the COHSBC, McKnight finished sixth in average (191.3), followed by Gonzales (10th, 183.8), Smith (12th, 179.5), Delaney Ferguson (31st, 165.3) and Burns (37th, 163.0).
"This literally has been the goal we've wanted to achieve for four years," coach Ferguson said. "It is so unreal. When you have five amazing bowlers whose averages are all right there together, that's what makes a state champion. The girls have always been strong in the Bakers, so I really felt they'd really be able to pull it together with the Bakers. They proved me right and I'm just so proud of them."
OCC title highlights boys bowling season
The boys team will lose two of its top bowlers to graduation in Sal Ferrante and Alex Minzler after finishing 15-2 overall, taking second in the COHSBC-A at 10-2 and capturing the OCC-Central title at 6-0.
The Lions were runners-up (3,609) at sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes behind Westerville Central (3,836) but settled for fourth (3,529) in the 16-team district tournament March 3 at HP Lanes as the top three advanced to state.
Sophomore Nathan Minzler finished 15th in the COHSBC with a 204.1 average, followed by freshman Hunter Blankenship (34th, 196.2), Ferrante (39th, 192.0), freshmen Hunter McKnight (41st, 189.1) and DeAndre Quiero (49th, 185.7), junior Dalton Cararo (50th, 185.6) and Alex Minzler (82nd, 175.6).
Nathan Minzler was fifth at sectional (580) and Quiero led at district (21st, 548).
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Record: Boys -- 15-2 overall, 10-2 (second) in COHSBC-A, 6-0 (first) in OCC-Central; Girls -- 17-0 overall, 12-0 (first) in COHSBC-A, 6-0 (first) in OCC-Central
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Sal Ferrante, Alex Minzler, Julian Nitsch and David Wurdack; Girls -- Delaney Ferguson, Shannon Gonzales and Briann McKnight
*Key returnees: Boys -- Hunter Blankenship, Dalton Cararo, Hunter McKnight and Nathan Minzler; Girls -- Taylor Burns and Lilu Smith