GREENFIELD — Tandess O’Neal and Macy Huber have been bowling together since they were in the fifth grade.
On Saturday, they’ll get their shot at being crowned state high school champions.
For the first time since the team was formed eight years ago, the Greenfield-Central High School girls bowling team is heading to state after winning sectional and regional titles in January.
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By ranking within the top 10 teams in the state, they also qualify to head to the national championships in Cincinnati in June.
The state tournament takes place Saturday at Championship Lanes in Anderson.
O’Neal and Huber, both juniors on the team, never would have guessed a hobby they picked up in middle school would lead to the chance to become state champs.
“I’m really excited. I think we have a pretty good chance,” said O’Neal, who also qualified to compete in this year’s individual state championships, as she did last year. That made her the first Greenfield-Central girl to do so.
On a predominantly young team with no seniors, teamwork is especially critical, she said.
“We work well together when it comes to pressure. That’s what helped us at sectional and regional. We all came together very nicely and were able to have some fun with it,” said O’Neal, 16, who finished fifth at state last year.
The team won the sectional on Jan. 11 at Expo Bowl in Indianapolis, defeating the Franklin Central High School team, which went undefeated throughout the season.
Greenfield-Central went on to eliminate Franklin Central again on its path to winning the regional on Jan. 18 in Noblesville. At the semistate on Jan. 25 in Kokomo, the team finished third and qualified for state.
It’s been quite a ride for O’Neal and Huber, who joined the Greenfield Intermediate School bowling team seven years ago, inspired by their parents, who bowled together in a local league. Over the years, the girls have honed their skills as both individuals and team players.
Supporting one another is vital when it comes to team bowling, said Brain Petrey, a former Greenfield coach who serves as high school bowling conference coordinator for the Indianapolis south conference.
At this weekend’s state championship, five bowlers will alternate turns, bowling two frames per game. Much like the cleanup batter in baseball, the team’s heavy hitter bowls the fifth and all-important 10th frame.
O’Neal, who also competes on the Greenfield-Central girls golf team, is happy to take on the 10th-frame challenge. Her average is 204, and tops among girls in the state.
In 36 tournament games so far, the team has averaged 156.
“I’m going to go in being confident in myself and throw the confident shots and just see what happens,” said O’Neal, who hopes to bowl for Marian University in a couple of years.
Huber, who also plans to bowl in college, will be there supporting O’Neal in the individual tournament that starts at 9 a.m. and cheering on her fellow teammates when the team tourney starts at 1 p.m.
The team also includes junior Elyssa Colwell, sophomores Cassie Knapp, Kayla Blaszak and Victoria Titus and freshmen Lauren Sherman and Kyliah Stewart.
“We’re all there together to cheer each other on and just lift each other up,” said Huber, 17, for whom bowling is a family affair. She was inspired to bowl by her grandma, Valerie Hopper, a longtime bowler who continues to enjoy the sport into her 60s. Huber’s mom, Heather, started bowling around the same time Huber joined the intermediate school club.
Huber has an average of 162 this season.
Since no other girls teams from his conference made it to state, Petrey has no qualms admitting he’ll be rooting for the home team to win this weekend.
He coached the Greenfield girls team through the first four years of the program, and has helped many of the teen bowlers learn the sport at Strike Force Lanes in Greenfield, where he works as youth director.
He also runs the local intermediate school bowling program, which feeds into the high school team. He believes the G-C girls have the talent to go the distance at state.
“Each week, I think they’ve gotten a little more confident in themselves. They‘ve always had the talent there, it’s just them believing in themselves and thinking they can do it,” said Petrey, 44, who has been bowling for nearly 30 years.
“I’ve known a lot of these boys and girls for their entire careers, and the kids crack on me because I’m known to shed a tear,” Petrey said. “If they win, I’ll probably cry a little bit and share some hugs and high-fives. I’m definitely pulling for them to win.”