Most of Eastern girls bowling’s varsity lineup got into the sport to have fun with friends, while competing in a varsity sport.
“I came in sophomore year and I knew (my teammates) because they all did it before,” junior Lindsey Hoffman said. “I was just seeing how it was so much fun.”
“We came in here just to have fun, a relaxed sport,” junior Isabella Giampetro added. “Once you learn how to do it, you realize, ‘I need to get better.’”
The core of the Vikings’ lineup hasn’t just gotten better, they’ve etched their place into the history of what has been South Jersey’s most prolific girls program in the past 10 years.
Even with a ton of turnover in their varsity lineup and a team full of bowlers still mostly new to the sport, Eastern has been the team to beat in South Jersey all season long. The Vikings capped off their fifth undefeated season in the last eight years last week with a victory over Cherokee and enters Saturday’s South Jersey sectional tournament with a solid chance at advancing to states for a second consecutive year.
This year, however, advancing to states isn’t enough for the young Vikings. They want to do something no Eastern girls bowling team has done before: win a sectional trophy.
“We can win,” sophomore Maddy Feldschneider said. “We know we can win. We can do it.”
Winning a sectional title doesn’t seem far-fetched after Eastern cruised through its Olympic Conference schedule this year. The season began on Dec. 3 with a 3-1 win over Seneca. The one point Seneca earned in the match came via a 715-679 win in the third game between the two teams. It would be the only point the Vikings would concede in conference play all year. Eastern would win all 15 of its remaining matches 4-0.
The Vikings were able to have success even after turning over half of their lineup from last year. Hailey Dadi, Cloe Lowell and Ryann Werner all graduated from last year’s Eastern team that finished sixth overall in the state. Giampetro noted while the team misses the three seniors from last year, their influence paved the way for the 2019-20 team’s success.
State Tournament results: Eastern placed 2nd in Group 4 today out of 6. They did beyond amazing!!!!! So proud of this team. Highest finish in my 9 years of coaching. Again that’s out of all group 4 teams in the state. Final tally out of all groups to come later.
— Eastern Bowling (@EasternBowling) February 11, 2019
“The seniors last year had all of these traditions that we tried to keep up with,” junior Sandra Garneau said. “Also our excellent coach, he really helped us. He’s really knowledgeable about bowling.”
Head coach Eric Datis works closely with the bowlers to get the most out of them. Even though most of the bowlers come in with little experience, Datis believes the team has benefitted from having an influx of athletes who are very teachable.
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve gotten some pretty athletic girls who’ve come out,” Datis said. “They realized the team has been pretty good the last couple of years and the girls who come out are into it. They want to learn. They want to do better. They’re eager to learn the sport.”
The eagerness to learn has paid off for the entire team. Senior Ericka Sheehan, a newcomer to the sport who competed for the first time this year, has improved as the season has gone on and shot a 219 game on Jan. 14 against Washington Township. Garneau said she bowled as low as a 32 when she started with the program two years ago. She’s now shooting consistent series of 400 or better this year. Giampetro, one of three returners from last year’s varsity team along with Garneau and Feldschneider, noted she’s gone from shooting around 100 as a freshman to consistently shooting games of 150 and higher.
Eastern Girls are now 12-0 defeating OLOA tonight.
— Eastern Bowling (@EasternBowling) January 17, 2020
Feldschneider, the youngest bowler in the Vikings’ lineup, also acts as a leader because of her level of experience. Unlike most of her teammates, Feldschneider bowled competitively for most of her childhood and will give her teammates tips and suggestions based on what she’s learned during her career.
“I always try to help people. I started (bowling) when I was 5,” Feldschneider said. “When I was 10, I started bowling 150’s, 160’s. Ever since then, I’ve given people tips on different techniques and everything.”
The combination of experience, hard work and team bonding has allowed the Vikings to maintain their hold as the Olympic Conference’s dominant team for nearly a decade. The last time the Vikings lost more than one match in a season was in the 2011-12 season. That year, Eastern only lost twice.
Sectional titles have been difficult for any South Jersey teams to come by in recent years thanks to solid performances from Shore Conference teams such as Toms River North, who was the only team to outscore Eastern en route to the South Jersey Group 4 title last season. This year, however, Toms River North has shifted to Central Jersey as part of a large group realignment across the state this season. The Mariners’ departure leaves South Group 4 wide open and gives the Vikings an opportunity to potentially make history.
“There’s a very real possibility that they can win it,” Datis said. “They just have to bowl their average or better.”
“We one hundred percent have the ability to get to states,” Giampetro said. “Honestly, we just have to not stress about it.”