Jessie Wiest said she had never bowled in her life before she decided to join the Bend High club team.
Four years later, the senior led the Lava Bears to the Oregon State United States Bowling Congress championship.
“My brother (Quinton) bowled, and they needed girls,” Wiest said last week at Lava Lanes in Bend. “I’m really happy that’s how it ended — my senior year winning state.”
Wiest said her personal breakthrough came early in her sophomore year when she began bowling two-handed instead of the traditional one-handed.
“I’ve never met anyone who was two-handed and a girl,” said Wiest, who also pitches on Bend’s softball team.
“She tried to throw a bowling ball like a softball and it didn’t work,” said Toby Cundell, who coaches the Bend bowling team along with Merri Chilcott. “She immediately improved by 30-40 pins a game. She went from just a bowler on the team to our anchor when she did that.”
Wiest also began collecting bowling balls. During a typical game, she will use three different balls — a 13-pound coverstocks-plastic ball that does not curve to pick up spares, a hook ball for oily lanes and a Urethane ball for dryer lanes.
“Nobody thinks you need more than one ball, and I roll up here with a suitcase,” Wiest said, with a smile. “I like the Urethane. I’m more consistent with the Urethane. It’s always the go-to (ball).”
Oregon high school bowling teams compete in a Baker format, in which the five bowlers rotate, each bowling two frames per game.
As the anchor, Wiest bowls the fifth and 10th frames.
“I like pressure and adrenaline,” she said. “I feel like it’s a privilege to be there.”
The state championship, which the Lava Bears won on Sunday, Feb. 24, at Firebird Lanes in Salem, came as a surprise.
Of Bend’s five varsity starters, Wiest is the only one that was on last season’s squad.
“I didn’t really have high expectations at all this year for the girls,” Cundell said. “I knew that they were going to compete, but I didn’t know they had that (a state championship) in them.”
The Lava Bears were also sitting in 11th out of 16 teams Feb. 23 after 24 qualifying games.
But Bend moved up to sixth after six more games Feb. 24.
Winning two-game matchups against No. 11 Siuslaw, No. 14 McKay and No. 7 Silverton in the double-elimination tournament got the Lava Bears to the semifinals against district-rival Henley, the No. 1 seed and defending state champions. To get to the finals, the Lava Bears were just more consistent, shooting a 164 and a 169 to Henley’s 168 and 131.
“They had one bad game and we stayed steady,” Cundell said. “Making spares, we worked a lot on that this year. We had multiple practices where we did nothing but spares all day long, and they got confident at picking spares up.”
Bend then defeated Crater 315-289 for the championship.
“It was a huge surprise,” Wiest said of winning the state tournament. “I had no idea that would happen. There were some really good teams there.”
Bend sophomore G.G. Johnson is the second member of her family to win a bowling state championship for the Lava Bears.
Her mother, Lauren, won a team and individual title in the early 1990s.
“I thought it would be a really fun way to meet people, and I’ve always really liked bowling,” said Johnson, who is also on Bend’s nordic ski team and had to choose which state meet she would participate in because both events were the same weekend. “I decided to do bowling state because I felt like being on the team that qualified for state at districts. … I felt like I had an obligation to carry that through, and I enjoy it. I just wanted to help the team. I’m really happy that I did.”
Anona Francis, a Madras junior who joined the Bend team for the district tournament at the end of January, also comes from a bowling family.
Her mom, aunts and uncles all bowl in a Madras league.
“It’s been really fun,” said Francis, who has bowled since she was 6. “I love everyone here. We’ve had a good time.”
Bend freshmen Haley Hull and Mykiah Hill made up the rest of the Lava Bears’ starting lineup.
Of the 16 girls on the Bend girls bowling team, eight were freshmen.
“They’re all pretty much new,” Cundell said. “Sometimes when girls or boys get to state, first time it’s loud, hundreds of people are there and they get a little overwhelmed, and they didn’t. They just bowled their game and had a good time.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307, email@example.com