published Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Undefeated GPS seeking first state bowling title

AREA INDIVIDUAL STATE QUALIFIERS

Division I boys: Soddy-Daisy -- Tanner Johnson, Joseph Leffew, Allyn Pickett, Cody Hunter; Bradley Central -- Cody Rymer, Gavin Bishop, Hayden Bishop; Central -- Reggie Long.

Division I girls: Soddy-Daisy -- Niki Bell, Ciara Long, Kylee Saunders; Walker Valley -- Lauren Smeltzer, Chelsea McCormack, Sondra Combs; Chattanooga Christian -- Hannah Goodwin; McMinn County -- Samantha Derrick.

Division II boys: Baylor -- Brandon Robertson, Sho Takiguchi; McCallie -- Evan Speicher, Daniel Stone, C.J. Moffat, John Markley.

Division II girls: GPS -- Kara Maynord, Sydney Leech, Sara Griffith, Corey Swafford, Madison Boyd.

Girls Preparatory School never has reached a final in the state bowling tournament.

But the Bruisers never have been 20-0 going into the event, as they are this year. Having dominated the East/Middle Region, they also have the highest team average in TSSAA Division II this season and have five individual state qualifiers bowling today. Three other GPS girls have averages high enough to qualify, just not enough games.

This year's bowling Bruisers are going to Smyrna with the intention of joining the school's big collection of state champions, but knowing they must beat Pope John Paul II in the quarterfinals (1 p.m. EST Friday) and then likely defending champion St. Agnes to get to their first final.

Their old nemesis, West No. 1 seed St. Benedict, probably would be waiting. After three consecutive years of beating GPS in the semifinals, the Cordova team edged the Bruisers by 20 pins in last year's quarterfinals and went on to finish second.

East/Middle third seed McCallie faces West No. 2 Lausanne in the boys' quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday.

The Soddy-Daisy teams face the Wilson Central girls and Dobyns-Bennett boys in the Division I quarterfinals Friday. Like GPS, the Soddy-Daisy boys are undefeated.

Admission at the Smyrna Bowling Center costs $8 Thursday and Friday and $10 Saturday.

"We're excited about this. We're more prepared than we've ever been," said GPS coach Jenise Gordon, acknowledging the help provided by this season by assistant coach David McGowan. "And for the first time I feel I've got a group of girls who think this is a major sport and have given their attention to it, instead of a sport they play between their other sports.

"We lost one senior last year, and this year we have four seniors stepping up. They know what it was like to come home after the quarterfinals, and they decided they were not going to let that happen again. This team has done a lot of practicing outside our planned practices."

McGowan is a former Hixson coach who has helped Baylor and Soddy-Daisy in recent seasons, "and he's great with the girls," Gordon said. "The kids really respect him and respond to him.

"My role always has been to motivate, push and organize, but bowling is a very detailed sport, and David brings that technical knowledge, like adjusting to different lanes."

Gordon said the entire team has improved, and indeed four of the Bruisers were in the state's top eight in the D-II girls' season averages: senior Kara Maynord (172.4) and juniors Sydney Leech (171), Sara Griffith (167) and Corey Swafford (164.9). Senior Madison Boyd is 12th at 162.8 and the team's "spark plug," the coach said.

"Once she gets going, we all get going," agreed Maynord, who said she tries to lead by example but can't help but "feed off" Boyd's energy.

"I'm a pretty outgoing person," Boyd explained, "and I think I should have fun and make everybody else have fun."

The Bruisers do enjoy one other, said Maynord, who also played volleyball until her junior season but quit because of leg stress fractures.

"I think our chemistry as a team has really grown with a lot of us being together for three years," she said. "It would be great if [a group] of us could be in the final six in individuals, but that's not our main goal for state."

"We're really looking forward to the team part," Boyd said.

"We always had a couple of bowlers who were really good, and the rest of us filled out the team," the softball center fielder added. "But now we have a whole group of bowlers who are pretty good."

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