It’s never been easy but the Vermilion boys have always managed to find a way to take care of business in the postseason. The Sailors earned their 11th straight trip to districts Saturday with a fourth-place finish at the Division II sectional tournament in Port Clinton.
The biggest challenge of the season awaits today. Vermilion will compete for one of three qualifying berths to the Division II state tournament. The Sailors take on the rest of the best from northwest Ohio at the Rossford district at Interstate Lanes starting at 5 p.m.
Vermilion’s success has been all about laser focus and getting down to business, right?
“We take things seriously, but it’s bowling,” senior Ridge Clark said. “It’s not 100 percent serious all the time. You have to have fun while you are out there.”
Except for one senior that graduated, the Sailors brought back the starting lineup from a year ago. In addition to Clark, seniors Joe Sheets and Matt Ponczocha and sophomores Ethan Fecto and Wyatt Cyran are back from the district-qualifying team.
“Team tradition is important, but our primary focus is right now,” Clark said. “We have to stay focused on what we need to take care of this year and not think about the past. That’s the past. We’ve got to keep on going and keep working hard.”
Clark joined the team as a sophomore, making the switch from basketball. He rolled 562 at the sectional Saturday behind Sheets (723) and Ponczocha (567).
“I’m so happy,” said Clark, who plans to play baseball for Heidelberg University. “There’s been so many memories. It’s been an amazing time.”
Sheets’ final two games Saturday (146-220-257) were critical for Vermilion in holding onto the fourth and final qualifying spot after the Sailors struggled in Baker.
“We just need to make sure that we keep making our spares and working as a team,” Sheets said. “It’s a special group. We just like to have fun with it. When we get on the approach we just focus. When we’re back in our seats we just have fun and joke around.”
Vermilion (8-2) finished second to Perkins (9-1) in the Sandusky Bay Lake Division after moving up from the Bay Division, which it won the past two years. The Sailors and Pirates split their head-to-head matches.
“Some of the teams we faced were tougher than last year,” Sheets said. “I’ve been working on shortening my first step because I’ve been very close to the foul line. Adjustments (at Interstate Lanes) is critical. The lanes seem to break down faster than some of the other houses we’ve been to.”
Sheets has been bowling since fifth grade, following in the footsteps of his parents and older sister, Ally. Sheets has enlisted in the U.S. Army and starts basic training June 24 in Fort Benning, Ga. He plans to focus his training in diesel engines and diesel mechanics.
Sheets leads the Sailors with a 195.2 average. Fecto (193.3) and Clark (191.5) follow, and Ponczocha (185.3) and Cyran (183.2) round out the top averages. Senior TJ Conway moved up from the junior varsity for the postseason.
“We just need to have a good attitude,” Ponczocha said. “Practices have helped us out a lot this year. Just kind of being ourselves and not being uptight has been important. The mindset has been ‘be loose, have fun, but when it’s crunch time it’s about buckling down and making your shot.’ I’ve really worked on my spare shooting this year. During sectionals I had a few games that were very close to being clean, maybe one spare missed in each game, which I’m quite proud of.”
Ponczocha plans to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, where he will study high-performance motorsports. He hopes to land a career in motorsports with the No. 1 goal of getting a job in NASCAR.
Fifth-year coach Scott Hugo couldn’t be more pleased with how his team has progressed this season.
“Our two sophomores have given us a nice youthful energy, but the senior leadership from our three seniors is what more or less has carried us from there,” he said. “We have a good opportunity of going to state if we just bowl the way we’re capable of bowling and not let the stage get too big.
“We just need to make spares. That more or less is what kept us from going to state the last few years. It’s just the amount of missed spares that has cost us. That’s what we are going to have to be mindful for and not take anything for granted.”
And Hugo is upbeat about the future of the program.
“It has a lot to do with the dedication of parents,” he said. “Our junior program is starting to grow back again. It was kind of waning the last few years. It has a lot to do with that, with parents and with siblings. We’ve just got a great, great group of kids.”