Krista Hoctor kind of has an idea what it's like to bowl in the state tournament.
The Cheektowaga senior was a member of the pacer team two years ago when the state tournament was held in Western New York.
What's the pacer team?
It's the unofficial 12th team in the state tournament. It's a squad made up of bowlers from the host section that participates as a non-scoring team just to keep the pace of play even during the event because there is an uneven amount of section champions (11) that qualify.
"It was a good experience to see all the good bowlers from the different sections you don't normally get to see," Hoctor, a Warriors senior, said.
While the pacers serve a purpose, there's still a difference being a sparring partner versus being a team competing to be the best of the best .
Hoctor and her Cheektowaga teammates hope to be part of the elite field – which will be determined for girls Thursday at Airport Lanes during the Section VI Championships. Sectionals began Wednesday with the boys tournament at Airport at 9 a.m. and should conclude around 3:30-4 p.m.
Unlike past years, Cheektowaga and the rest of the Section VI teams (boys and girls) considered small schools via the predetermined enrollment numbers won't have to worry about overcoming the likes of Orchard Park, Niagara Falls, Frontier and Lockport to advance to the state tourney March 10-11 in Syracuse.
The New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association added a second division to the team competition. Each section in the state will now send a large-schools champion (Division I – the highest scoring Class A or B team), and a small-schools champ (Division II – the highest scoring Class C or D team in the tournament). Section VI still plans to crown four class champions as it has in the past.
While some may say the bigger small schools have an edge because of an enrollment differences (example: Cheektowaga has 523 students, Frewsburg 169), that still doesn't take into account the unpredictable nature of the sectional tournament.
Last year, West Seneca West's boys placed first overall but Class D-sized school Frewsburg was third and would have been the area's Division II champion had the rule been in place. On the girls' side, runner-up Tonawanda, the Class C champion, would've made the trip to states.
"We're here to get kids to participate in a high level of sports," Section VI Girls Bowling Chairman Ed Ventry said of the reason the state added a small schools division. "Just getting more kids involved does that.
"You can now argue the larger small schools may have an advantage but it's still better than sending one team and those teams getting no chance."
Cheektowaga is in an ultra-competitive Division II field that includes Depew, Maryvale and Pioneer but earned a confidence boost by winning outright the recent Section VI Invitational. The Warriors edged OP – which won two of the four tournaments it entered this season – by 98 pins.
Cheektowaga dealt with injuries at points during the season but appear to be healthy at the right time. Emily Crone (197.10), Paige Onisk, Emma Rome and Hoctor are the Warriors' top four. Onisk and Crone finished second and third, respectively, at the Section VI Invitational.
"Everyone is hyped for sectionals," Crone said.
Not just in Cheektowaga.
Division II girls contenders: Keep an eye out for Allegany-Limestone, led by last year's overall tournament champion Cameron Spring, who is a junior.
Melissa Large of Tonawanda won the Section VI Invitational and carries the top average in Eric County (206.7) by four-tenths of a pin over Frontier's Brittany McAndrews. Large and teammates Victoria Kurdziel and Rebekka McClure (187.71 average) hope to help the Warriors have another strong showing at sectionals.
Rachel Wagner of Depew has one of the highest three-game series of the season with a 726 and ranks second in ECIC North Small in average, just ahead of Cheektowaga's Crone. Maryvale's Katarina Korn rolled a league-high 276 game and placed in the top 20 of the Section VI Invitational.
Division I girls: Lockport almost ran the table in capturing the Niagara Frontier League crown, losing its last match to Kenmore West. Still, the 13-1 Lions under coach Marion Singleton had three of the top five leaders in average in the league and had split squads take seventh and 10th at the Section VI Invitational. Those hoping to lead Lockport to a strong showing include Emily Swendsen, who averaged 202.05, Olivia Pichey (184.29) and Samantha Jaeger (182.84).
Kenmore West took fourth in the Section VI Invitational and also has two of the top bowlers in the league in Chloe Strong and Miranda Remond. Remond just missed securing a spot in the top-performers average pool by eight-tenths of a pin.
The top three overall finishers (male or female) earn automatic spots to states, while the three highest-performing pool bowlers in the tournament capture the final spots for the respective All-Section team that competes in states.
Niagara Falls can never be overlooked. The past state champion went 12-2 and is led by sophomore McKenzie Gilmore (181) and freshman Carly Washcalus (175).
Orchard Park, which won the Maryvale and Festival of Lights tournaments and placed second in two others, is led by Sarah Radt, Danielle Milo, Paige Bartosz and Alexis Klenke. Radt's 204.40 trailed only division leader McAndrews (206.3).McAndrews' Frontier teammate Makenzie Yesis had the top series in ECIC South Large with 706 and just finished with an average just under 200.
Kelly Normandin (194.81) and Rachel Banning (183.22) were among the top five in average for ECIC North Large champion Amherst.
Boys Division I outlook: While West Seneca West is the defending overall champion, Orchard Park heads into sectionals as the hunted based on its 12-0 record and having finished as the top Section VI team in each of the four tournaments it entered.
Sectionals rarely play out according to plan.
Niagara Falls went 14-0 in capturing the Niagara Frontier League title and features the top three bowlers in the league. Nathan Papiernik finished with a 216 average. The junior just missed qualifying for states last year. Freshman Brian Templeton carried over a fine afternoon showing at sectionals last year into a fine season with a 209 average. Trevor McKee, a state qualifier last year as a freshman, averages 207. Ventry said the lefty just seems to bowl well in tournaments. Falls' Dave Shelton had a 203 – fifth in the league.
Brandon Pardee leads Lockport with a 206 average. Kenmore West's Tom Christopher has a 201 and bowled a 300 game during the Blue Devils' final league match against Lockport last week.
Connor Nowak, Kyle Ziemba, Spencer Guise and Brian Hill of defending champion West Seneca West all finished in the top 16 at the Section VI Invitational.
Clarence, which finished sixth at sectionals last year, looks to build on a 12-0 campaign in ECIC North Large and has the top two bowlers in its division in Brady Pohlman (208.44) and Elliott Pohlman (204.86). … Frontier can never be counted out at sectionals. Those looking to help the Falcons take flight at Airport include Derek Host (216.06) and Brandon Badaszewski.
Division II boys: Falls coach Ventry said Fredonia has a lineup capable of making a run to the small-schools crown. The Hillbillies aren't the only one.
ECIC North Small rivals Maryvale, Tonawanda and Alden have that contending look, too, with Tonawanda's Colton Simonds boasting the top average in the division (219.11). Alden's Alex Rzepka shares top series with Simonds (744), has a high game of 300 and a 217.07 average. Other top averages in the division are Depew's Dylan Andrzejewski (210.29) and Maryvale teammates Ryan Lent (217.60) and Brandon Suffoletta (207.03).
Pioneer won ECIC South Small with Karson Hurlburt leading the division in average (200.50).
Pro-like setting: Syracuse's OnCenter will be the host for the USBC Open Championships from the end of March through June. But the lanes for the event will be constructed early and used by the NYSPHSAA for this year's state tournament.
"Unless kids have bowled in the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, there's nothing around here like it," Ventry said.
Etcetera: St. Francis heads into Thursday's All-Catholic Tournament at Classic Lanes as the team to beat. The Red Raiders went 41-1 in regular-season matches in the Monsignor Martin with Parker Fils (206), Ryan Crapo (204) and Eli Williams (195) leading the way. … The state Catholic Championship also is set for Classic Lanes on March 3.
The 300 games on record for the season: Kenmore East's Kobi Wiewiorski , Alden's Alex Rzepka, Ken West's Tom Christopher and St. Joe's Mike Weber.
Weber rolled his Tuesday after a 298 game. That's part of an 833 series in a win over Canisius.