|Bluebirds Ready to Soar with First-Year Head Coach|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Jordan Cole (left) and junior Tessa Killen (right) will be keys to the success of the Highlands bowling teams this year.|
Eckerle takes over the Highlands bowling programs that have seen success since the Kentucky High School Athletic Association made it a sport in 2012. Eckerle said former Head Coach Glenn Schmidt still helps out at LaRu Lanes in Highlands Heights where the team practices and has home matches.
"I am kind of a newby with coaching. I have some experience bowling," Eckerle said. "It wasn't my sport growing up. I play it pretty consistently. (Schmidt) and I talk a lot. It's been key, too. We get a lot of practice time in and the kids are using it to their advantage. We have scheduled some practices trying to maintain focus trying to make sure that we practice as we hope to play trying to take our time on the lanes seriously."
The Highlands girls are coming off the first state tournament win in school history with a 3-0 (153-136, 171-139, 203-170) win over Harrison County. The Bluebirds then lost to Region 5 rival Campbell County by the same score in the elite eight. Campbell County finished state runner-up and won the region. Highlands has three region championships and six total appearances in the state tournament.
The Bluebirds graduated Emerel Woody and Erin Parrott from that team. But they return juniors Abby Bach and Tessa Killen. Woody and Bach made the individual state tournament last year with Bach making the state semifinals for a top-eight finish.
"I think they're chomping at the bit to get going," Eckerle said. "I know we've got some new additions who are real excited to get out there and get some experience, too so I think they'll be riding that wave into the year."
Sophomore Kristen Egan is a returning sophomore and junior Amanda Parrott is back bowling after taking several years off. New additions to the team are sophomores Madison Clore and Madalyn Taylor.
"For the new players, we're just focusing on getting them comfortable in the lanes and we're just carrying the team as much as possible," Killen said. "We've been doing a lot of spare drills and we've been simulating game play here at practice and helping them with their techniques."
The Highlands boys did not make it to state for the third year in a row. But eighth grader Alex Bach made it to state individually.
"I think we have three key senior bowlers that are strong," Eckerle said. "I feel really comfortable with the guys that we have."
Eckerle said he had a huge tryout for the squad. But he kept some new bowlers on the sidelines to prepare for beyond this season. He said the seniors have helped out there.
"(The underclassmen) have all been really outstanding," Cole said. "They understand their spot currently and they understand next year and the years to come, they're going to have more important role on the team. They understand they will eventually be some of the best bowlers on the team. They're very good at listening and are very coachable."
The Highlands boys have one lone Region 5 crown in 2016. The Bluebirds have been to state twice finishing state runner-up to Scott County in 2014.
The Bluebirds won the combined match against St. Henry on Thursday. The Highlands boys face Covington Catholic and the girls will play Conner at 3:30 p.m. at Erlanger Bowl.