Teenagers Katy Richardson, Madi Stanley, Corey Swafford and Taylor Battle are practically lifers when it comes to softball — and relative newbies at bowling. But while the one craft has taken them a lifetime to refine, this bowling thing so far has been, well, a home run.
With that core group providing plenty of support, the Bruisers are 17-0 and seeking a second consecutive Division II bowling state title and undefeated season. The state tournament gets under way Thursday at the Smyrna Bowling Center starting with individual competition. Team play begins Friday and concludes Saturday.
Sydney Leech is the Bruisers' top bowler with an average of 178.7 per game. She's one of three state finalists for Miss Bowler, an award her sister, Payton, won as a senior in 2010. Fellow senior Sara Griffith ranks second on GPS's team at 170.4.
But three fourths of the softball crew fill out other starting positions with Stanley leading that lineup with a 170.1 average. She believes the softball players' competitive nature takes over when they get to the lanes.
"I think it's just the type of people we are," Stanley said. "We want to try to be successful at everything we do. I don't think any of us go into anything not trying to do our best. And we're having fun."
Until reaching high school, the only bowling any of the softball players had done was with friends for fun. Battle, who with an average of 131.2 per game is one of three in the 130s who have contended this year for the sixth spot in the lineup, is a sophomore and a first-year bowler.
"Usually in the winter I'd be at the batting cages or at college camps or something," Battle said. "Softball is like all out. Bowling you can actually relax. I want to improve and help my teammates out. This is something I look forward to coming to. I actually enjoy bowling and plan on doing it until I graduate."
Swafford, like Stanley, is a pitcher in softball. Both agree the underhand motions in the two sports are nothing alike. She's among those who credits assistant coach David McGowan's teachings.
"Since we're softball players we're used to going to lessons," Swafford said. "I think that's why we've learned to do this a little easier."
Swafford's bowling average is 161.3 per game.
"I think there are two reasons why these girls have been able to succeed in bowling," GPS head coach Jenise Gordon said. "One is they're natural-born athletes. The second thing is certainly David McGowan and his expertise. He simplifies the game so anybody can understand it. They're natural athletes and they pick up on it."
Richardson appeared to have suffered a setback last year as a junior when she broke the middle finger on her right hand playing in a powder-puff football game. Instead, she just switched to her left hand and carries a 152.2 average, which got her moved into the starting lineup.
"I ended up being better left-handed," Richardson said.
The Bruisers had a tough semifinal match last season against St. Agnes, which is back in this year's tournament, although the teams wouldn't meet until the championship match this time.
"We're undefeated for the second year in a row now," Richardson said. "I think if we all just calm down, we can win it again."
What about softball, where the Bruisers were DII-AA state runners-up last spring?
"I know we have a better chance this year than last year," Stanley said.
But for a while now the group's concentration has been on bowling. That's even meant spending less time dating -- or incorporating it.
"I've actually been on a date bowling before," Swafford said. "I usually win."
Gordon said it's been a blessing to coach the group of seniors she has, and their steadiness and stability has been invaluable. She can only hope the next group of softball players will be as good.
"I let that get handled by word of mouth via the girls," the coach said. "I let Corey and Katy go out and talk about how amazing bowling is. That's all I have to do. I'm going to keep doing the same thing. It seems to be working."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.