During the first day of practice in the inaugural season of the Gig Harbor High School girls bowling team this winter, a lot of balls found their way into the gutter. At least half, according to the estimate of coach Pete Jansen, who is the school’s longtime baseball coach.
“But those days are gone,” Jansen said.
There has been quite a bit of improvement across the board. All of the girls on the team came to Tacoma’s Tower Lanes with little to no bowling experience.
“I just bowl with my family on the weekends occasionally,” said senior Amanda Lane, one of the team’s top bowlers. “So I was a little nervous. Bowling is new to the school.”
The improvement isn’t accurately reflected in the team’s 1-10 record in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, but it’s evident to those within the program.
“We’ve mostly just been learning the basic skills of bowling,” said sophomore Sophie DeClements. “We’ve taken it slowly. It’s a fun time.”
What goes into competitive bowling? A lot more than anyone in the Tides’ program knew beforehand.
“Your approach, walking up to the line, throwing the ball and which angles you need to hold the ball to get it to curve correctly,” DeClements said. “You hold your wrist at a different angle.”
Jansen was right there with the girls, learning from the Tower Lanes instructors on the first day.
“I think the last time I bowled was about 25 years ago,” Jansen joked. “Bowling is very technical. The (Tower Lanes staff) has been great, helping teach the girls.”
It has taken some time for the techniques to take effect.
“It took about a month to start to get most of the basic skills down,” DeClements said.
There’s also things like reactive bowling balls — which some of the girls have gone ahead and purchased — and varying oil patterns on different lanes in different alleys. It’s the sort of stuff that might prompt casual bowlers to roll their eyes — but it makes a difference in the world of competitive bowling.
“Some lanes are oilier than others,” Lane said. “If there’s a lot more oil, the ball is going to spin a lot differently or faster. If it’s not as much oil, your ball goes a lot slower. Went to a really old bowling alley in Yelm. There was barely any oil on the lane, and it was really old wood. Your ball goes pretty straight there.”
For Jansen, his style of coaching is likely more laid back than on the baseball diamond.
“We just kind of knew going in that we weren’t going to be challenging for the league title,” Jansen said. “But the girls are having lots of fun.”
And for some of the girls, it’s an opportunity to participate in a sport that doesn’t have the same level of competitiveness as some of the more popular sports, like soccer or basketball.
“It’s a cool sport to do and be able to letter in,” Lane said. “You don’t have the pressure of the big sports teams.”
Jansen said he plans to coach again next season.
“(Gig Harbor athletic director Bob) Werner was telling me that it’s the No. 1-growing college sport for women,” Jansen said. “There are quite a few opportunities for girls to get a scholarship. It’s interesting, it’s like any sport. You’ve got to have that competitive fire. Some of the girls are really competitive. Some of them aren’t — they just want to have fun — which is great. It’s going to be a growing sport here.”