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Strike force: Park girls bowling team captures state championship

The Park High School girl’s bowling team captured the state championship April 24 in St. Cloud. Front row (from left) is Hannah Munson and Rachael Kittelson. Pictured in back is (from left) coach Lori Munson, Sophie Jerry, Sidney Niles, Sarina Richard and coach Shannen O’Ryan. (Submitted photo)

Nobody had to tell Park High School senior Rachael Kittelson that this was her last chance at a state championship.

Three previous years, she’d gone to state as a member of the Park High School girl’s bowling team. And each time — her freshman, sophomore and junior years — they’d gone home without the big trophy.

That changed April 24 when Park beat Mankato East to win the 2014 state tournament at Southway Bowl in St. Cloud.

The valedictory victory meant that Kittelson and fellow senior Hannah Munson would graduate from Park on a high note. They hoisted the Storm Cup trophy along with teammates Sophie Jerry, Sarina Richard and Sidney Niles.

“I said, ‘This is our chance to shine,’” Kittelson said she told her teammates before the tournament. “‘This is mine and Hannah’s last time to show them what we can do.’”

“We represented Park in the way we wanted to,” she added.

Sixteen teams competed in the round-robin tournament, with the remaining eight facing each other in the single elimination round. The games were scored in the “baker-style” format.

“We each bowl two frames per game,” Kittelson said. “One person will bowl frames one and six the next will bowl two and seven.”

Obviously, that puts a lot of pressure on each team member to stand and deliver.

“When we’re up there we know every ball counts, which gets the nerves flowing,” Kittelson said.

She said she told her teammates to be in the moment. If you roll a stinker, shake it off and look ahead, not back.

“We say, ‘One and done,’”she said. “If we struggle with one ball, I’ll say, ‘It’s just one ball.’”

The team, also known as “Park White,”  is one of two varsity bowling teams at Park. The teams are coached by Hannah’s mother, Lori Munson, David O’Ryan and his daughter Shannen O’Ryan.

“We’ve come in second place before,” said Lori Munson, who teaches at Cottage Grove Middle School. “We were determined not to get second place.”

Niles said the team was optimistic about winning as it entered the tournament.

“We were really hoping we would because we had just won conference the weekend before, so we we’re like, ‘Maybe we can win state as well,’” she said.

The state tournament final was “kind of nerve-racking,” Niles said.

“It was a little different because we haven’t ever won a championship,” she said. “A lot of times we’ll come close to winning.”

Hannah Munson, 17, said bowling is harder than it looks.

“I know people don’t think it’s very much of a workout, but you have to be able to stand up on your feet for seven hours at a time,” she said.

Sometimes, it also means shutting out the noise of rival cheering sections while you take your best shot. 

“It’s mental toughness,” Hannah Munson said. “It’s intense. It’s loud. It’s screaming. It’s cheering. It’s high-fiving. When we were at the state tournament there wasn’t a person sitting down. Everyone was standing and watching and cheering.”

The team won a trophy and each member received a plaque for the championship.

Hannah Munson, who bowled a perfect 300 game in 2012, received a scholarship to bowl at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Unlike football, basketball and most other high school sports, bowling does not come under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota State High School League. Its governing body is the Bowling Proprietors Association of Minnesota. However, Park team members can earn a varsity letter for bowling.

Park team members practice at Park Grove Bowl in St. Paul Park.

“It’s just awesome that it’s paid off, all their practice,” Park Grove Bowl general manager Carrie Stahlberg said. “We’re very proud of the girls.”