Local bowling trio helps Ashford's team
The first and last bowlers in the Ashford University men's lineup have bowled their last frames for the Saints, but not before leading the program to some firsts.
Jake Waldron of Morris served as leadoff bowler and Troy Behning of Seneca was anchor for the Saints as they completed their second NAIA season earlier this spring. Both plan to leave the program. Waldron is transferring to San Diego State University, and Behning, an accounting major who attended Joliet Junior College for two years before going to AU, plans to move on to graduate school.
A third area native, Minooka Community High School grad Ryan Lakota, teamed up with Behning and Waldron to lead the Saints to their first tournament win. After starting fourth of 12 teams in the qualifying round, the Saints stormed to an upset victory at the V-Hawk Invitational, hosted by Viterbo University, in late January.
"It was just a great experience," Behning said. "We all bowled well at the end, that's what really allowed us to put the run together. When one of us would start striking, we would all start striking."
One of three Saints who averaged over 200 pins per game at the V-Hawk Invitational, Behning says that the key to the win was knocking off top-seeded St. Ambrose in the semifinal round. Ashford then defeated Viterbo in the finals.
"It was just an edge-of-your-seat type of tournament," Waldron said.
The Saints also qualified for the United States Bowling Congress Intercollegiate Team Championships Sectionals for the first time this season. They placed ninth among the 20 teams they competed against at the event, held on March 10-11.
"That was a great experience, being able to do it for the first time," Behning said. "We obviously didn't make it last year; we struggled. We wound up making it down to Euless, Texas, and even though we didn't bowl as well as we would have liked, it was still a great experience."
As might be expected for a second-year program, the Saints did not fare as well in some of their other tournaments.
"It was a lot of ups and downs," Waldron said, "but it's actually really cool being on the first team ever to win a bowling tournament and the first team ever to go to sectionals. People will remember that I was on the team just because it's the first to ever do it."
Behning recorded an average total of 187.88 pins in the 50 games he bowled this season, up from an average of just over 175 in 2010-11, with a high average of 201.11 at the V-Hawk Invitational. He had a strike percentage of 40.7 and picked up 65.4 percent of possible spares.
"Yes and no. I set a high expectation for myself," Behning said, when asked if he was satisfied with his season. "After last season, when we struggled as a team, we all learned from it. Our averages all went up by an average, I would say, of 10 pins. My average went up around 12. Another kid from Iowa had his average go up 12. Knowing the lane conditions and what to do when made a difference."
Lakota bowled 44 games this season for the Saints, averaging 185.85 pins per game. His best tournament was his first — the Midwest Collegiate in early October, where he averaged 198.44 pins. For the season, the criminal justice major had a 45.0 strike percentage and picked up 69.0 percent of his spares.
"I think I did pretty well, but I hope to improve on what I did next year," Lakota said. "I need to work on my mental game. ... I need to calm down and stop being so mad when I miss a spare. I need to relax and just enjoy bowling."
In 32 games, Waldron had an average score of 182.63. He bowled just one game, a 194, at the S.I. Elite Invitational in November, which stands as his highest average at a single tournament. Overall, he hit strikes 38.2 percent of the time and had a 73.4 spare percentage.
For Behning and Waldron, the end of the season may also be the end of their long history of bowling regularly together. They both grew up competing in leagues at Echo Lanes in Morris, which is owned by Waldron's grandparents.
"I started when I was about 4 years old, just bowling in a league," Behning said. "I've bowled with Jake since I was 7 or 8. We know each other very well. Our families are very close. And I've bowled in at least one league every year since."
Lakota, whose home alley growing up was Town and Country in Joliet, hopes to build on the success of the 2011-12 Saints with future teams.
"It was real nice getting to know them," Lakota said of Behning and Waldron. "We're getting more and more recruits, and hopefully they will be good replacements for them. Troy will be a big loss. He's a great leader and a great anchor. We're also losing our leadoff bowler, Jake, so that will be tough."