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Perennial contenders [UPDATED]

Published 12:05pm Friday, December 6, 2013 Updated 12:12pm Friday, December 6, 2013

A program’s success is measured based on how dominant a team has been over the course of its history. In Fergus Falls, one of the most successful sports has been the school’s bowling team.

Since its inception five years ago, the Otters have proved that they are the cream of the crop in the area as they have made the state tournament four times and have cemented themselves as the team to beat in the West Central North Conference.

On Saturday, the team will travel to Arden Hills to Flaherty Arden Bowl to take on 23 other teams vying for the title of best team in the state.

“That is the difference between bowling and the other high school sports, we only have one class,” Fergus Falls head coach Dean Paulson said. “So we are bowling larger schools from the metro area like St. Louis Park, Maple Grove, Burnsville and others.”

The varsity team, which includes Mary Gettel, Hunter Christenson, Wyatt Swanson, Arnold Bolland, Olivia Anderson, Zack Anderson and Dylan Huffman, will also be joined by two JV teams that qualified for a separate tournament in St. Paul at Midway Pro Bowl on Sunday.

The tournament breaks down as four pools of six bowl two games against each opponent with the top four teams of each pool moving on to the second round. From there, the teams are broken down to four pools of four and bowl two games against each opponent with the top two teams from each pool advancing to round three.

The final round seeds the eight remaining teams in a single elimination playoff that is a best of three matches.

In its three previous trips to state, the Otters have finished in third and fifth overall with only one year of missing the second round cut.

How does a team like this become so successful in such a short amount of time? Paulson contributes the team’s success to a strong junior bowling program at Northern Aire Lanes and the amount of practice time that the team puts in each week.

The team has been very good this season averaging around 170 pins per game and has had a fill percentage of more than 70 percent.

Paulson also has the utmost confidence in his bowlers as he rotates all seven of the varsity bowlers into the five team spots.

“I don’t have a set rotation. I usually make the lineup even before we get to the meet and every bowler has their turn at bowling in a team game. I’ve seen coaches who watch their kids warm up and take them out if they are not bowling well. I have bowled long enough to know that just because you are struggling or doing well in practice, doesn’t mean that you will struggle or succeed in a game.”

Paulson does most of his coaching in practice, but picks a few points for each bowler to emphasize during a meet. The coach also brings credibility to his position as he currently averages 185 and has bowled a 300 this season.

The team is still relatively unknown when walking the halls at Kennedy Secondary School. With last season being the first time the team could receive varsity letters for the sport, the team struggled to even get those as they had to go through several forms in order to prove they had submitted the necessary paperwork to the school.

“High school bowlers don’t always get the credit they deserve. They always get the ‘bowling is not a sport’”, but any sport can be recreational or competitive, it just depends on the atmosphere or level of competition,” Paulson said.

The team will hope to change all that this weekend as they compete for its first state title.

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