The Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs are pictured following their district championship. (Submitted photo)
The Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs are pictured following their district championship. (Submitted photo)
History was made and a new standard was set for the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs in their five-year-old bowling program Saturday, Feb. 24 in the district tournament. Not only did the Mustang bowlers win their first-ever district title, but they earned an invitation to compete against the best of the best in Division II by qualifying for the Division II State Bowling Championships.

The state event takes place Friday, March 2 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl, where the following six bowlers for the Mustangs will compete in the state event: seniors Noah Fenner, Brayden Sellman and Eli Hollingsworth; junior Nathan Burns and sophomores Jonah Fenner and Kaleb Thomas.

To qualify for the state tournament, the Mustangs won their district championship by compiling a total score of 3,689 (regular and Baker games), winning over second-place Miami Trace, who totaled 3,653. In third place was Washington at 3,489, and in fourth place was Unioto at 3,442.

For the Mustangs in the regulation games, they had game scores of 822, 919 and 977 for a total of 2,718. In the six Baker games, LC scored the following: 138, 127, 165, 181, 201 and 159 for a total of 971.

"This is my first year coaching, but my goals were to see consistency at the end of the year, and they did that," LC coach James O'Connor said. ”Competing for the first league title was a goal, and we wanted to have a good showing in the sectional and district tournaments. One thing led to another, and they performed really well.

"Watching them in the Baker games is exciting because they coach each other at that point. They are in the moment, they are cheering for each other and that's the real team aspect of it. You really see that in a Baker game. That's when they started doing their Ric Flair cheers and all that."

Now, just how does a team that began just five years ago make it to the state tournament? They put in the work and practice needed to became good at their sport, plus as coach Shawn McLaughlin discussed, the six bowlers each have a passion for the sport.

"These guys bowl together all the time. We could not have practice for a week, and they would still be fine because they bowl so much on their own," McLaughlin said. "They just love the game of bowling, and if we don't have a practice, they are going somewhere and they are bowling because that is all
they want to do all the time. They are great friends, and I think it is great they came this far as a group.

"From what we saw last year, we knew we had a good core group coming back, and the word was others thought we were going to be the team to beat in the southeast area because they knew had so much coming back. We thought we'd be in pretty good shape with who we had coming back.

"We had high expectations of being a very competitive bowling team this year, but I don't know if we had this high of expectations."

The seniors for the Mustangs have had great success this season with Noah Fenner taking first place at districts and Eli Hollingsworth taking first at the Southern Hills Athletic Conference tournament.

Noah Fenner spoke about the season and the entire experience of districts.

"We have this same group on the team for about two years. Last year, we missed state by 30 or so pins, and this year we had a tough first game at districts," Fenner said. "It has been a really good year. The team has come together, and a couple of our players have stepped up when we really needed them. Having my brother on the team really helps, too."

Noah Fenner spoke about not just having his brother Jonah on the state-qualifying team, but also talked about the entire experience of how the team has improved over the past year.

"It is awesome to have this experience with my brother on the team. It has been two years, but this is the first year we've competed competitively at sectionals and districts," Fenner said. "This year, we have repeated shots more and kept our average scores where they are supposed to be, which makes a big difference.

"I wanted to make it past sectionals this year, but at sectionals we started off like a ball of fire, and once we made districts I thought there would be more teams, and we knew then we could get to state."

The senior also spoke about his individual performance at districts.

"I had a couple practices here and there, and I thought I was going to shoot high, but not that high. We went down there the Thursday before, and I worked on some things. I knew I could shoot 600, but I didn't expect to shoot 680," Noah Fenner said.

Fellow senior Hollingsworth was the first-place SHAC bowler this season who bowled a 705 series, which included scores of 286, 219 and 200.

"It is unbelievable to be making it to state because I didn't know if we were going to make it this far, to be honest with you. I'm glad we advanced to state. It has been fun, and I hope we go out with a bang," Hollingsworth said. "As an individual, I had a rocky day at districts, but I have great teammates who just picked me back up. We fought back together, and we took the lead after the first three games. We just had fun with it and bowled as a team, and that is what made us win.

"The Baker games were intense, and I was shaking every time I went up to throw a ball. Every pin counts, and we all hoped for the best."

The senior SHAC champion, Hollingsworth spoke about that tournament as well, saying it was his best match of the season.

"My best match was all-league when I shot a 705 and I got first all-league. It was awesome. I had my whole family there, and I couldn't have pictured it any better. I feel like my grandpa –­ he passed away a couple years ago ­– I felt like he was there watching over me, helping me out.

"I'm looking forward to having a good time at state, and I'm glad we are getting this opportunity to go bowl at state."

A third senior on the team, Brayden Sellman, spoke about his day at districts. He's been with the program for three seasons and talked about how Noah Fenner got him interested in the sport.

"District was a really tough day. We had a couple games that weren't that great, but we came back and bowled well and made a comeback and won. It was incredible," Sellman said. "Noah Fenner is one of my best friends, and he started to bowl and then he got me interested in it and I went from there. My highest average was 550 here in Hillsboro, and for Friday at state, I want us to come home with a win and for us to enjoy the experience."

Nathan Burns is the lone junior on the team, and he also had help getting involved in bowling from the Fenners, and not only that, he talked about how his game has improved this season.

"Mrs. Fenner got me into bowling my sophomore year," Burns said. "I had her in math class, and she, Jonah and Noah were all talking about bowling and I thought I should really try to do that. I've been bowling ever since.

"I was really excited (about qualifying for state), and it is the first time we've ever made it that far because districts were nerve-wracking and intense to see who was going to come out on top. My game has improved since the beginning of the season. At the start, my game was really bad, and as it went on, Jonah and Noah really helped me out by improving everything and making me much better with my footwork and making my rotation better so it hooks it the pocket.

"My best game was at sectionals where my score was a 197, and I was really happy with that and it helped the team."

Jonah Fenner is one of two sophomores on the Mustang bowling team. He was also one of the top returning bowlers from last season, and he is going to state with his brother, which is important to both of them.

"It is awesome being a part of this with my brother, especially with this being his last year, because he's been so close three years in a row as an individual. For him to finally go out his senior year with a team to state is just amazing," Jonah Fenner said. "I'm looking forward to the experience at state. With it being the first time going in as a team, it is definitely going to be fun, and hopefully we come back successful."

Jonah Fenner spoke about how he became interested in bowling and about how intense the district tournament was this year.

"My dad would bowl, so he just brought us (to Highland Lanes) one day. I really liked it and just went with it," Jonah Fenner said of his start in bowling. "Districts were completely different compared to anything else because it was your first time being there. With only four teams bowling, we knew we had to win to qualify for state. You just have to make the best shot you can every time you are up there.

"The Baker round was pretty tough because the oil pattern there was something we really hadn't bowled on before, and all around in Baker all of the scores were really low, so we just had to maintain with everyone else. This season has been a ride because we had two JV players step up in the last month or so, which really helped us. My season, I think I've done pretty well."

A second sophomore on the team is Kaleb Thomas, and he, like his teammates, is excited to be going to state. Also like others on the team, Thomas began bowling with help from the Fenners.

"It is very awesome to have the opportunity to be able to come to state. I never thought in a million years it would come to this," Thomas said. "I bowled with the Fenners probably three or four years. I never really took it serious, I just tagged along with them, and then I always planned doing bowling in high school. Once I reached freshman year, that's when I took bowling more seriously, and it just stuck.

"It is very challenging to learn to bowl at the high school level. You have compete against kids from your local school district, and not just that, but from other schools as well. It is hard sometimes, but it is all about finding your line and repetition. Once you find your line, that's all you have to do – keep hitting your marks.

"Again, qualifying for state was unreal and truly a dream come true. I'm hoping to play very well in the tournament and wish for the best."