By Greg Gulas
The Youngstown State women’s bowling team, the only collegiate varsity program in Ohio, has a No. 25 final ranking after last season’s charter campaign.
Head coach Chelsea Gilliam already has her Penguins in the national mix.
Ranked 24th in this year’s preseason poll, Gilliam’ was one of 10 nominated for “Coach of the Year” honors.
“I was very happy with the way everything unfolded last year,” Gilliam told the Curbstone Coaches on Monday at Avion Banquet Center. “The goal was to compete and we ended up the highest ranked first-year program in any of the three divisions,
“It was an honor just to be nominated and considered, but this is a new season and we must continue to move forward.”
The Penguins fell out of the December poll. The Penguins finished 19th out 27 teams this past weekend at the Kutztown University Invitational.
Gilliam realizes some hard work lies ahead if they expect to return to the national rankings.
“We started off strong in the fall by finishing third [out of 19 teams] at the Bud Whitman Memorial Tournament, which was also hosted by Kutztown State,” Gilliam said. “We struggled at our next two tournaments, so we had some work to do and a lot of practice with our spares.
“We’re young and it will come, but you want it to happen overnight and it just doesn’t work that way.”
This year’s roster has three freshmen, five sophomores, a junior and one senior. Seven players lettered a season ago.
“Nikki Mendez [189.47 average] has been our go-to player thus far,” Gilliam said. “She’s our anchor, has been very steady and does well in high-pressure situations.
“Rachel Darrow [170.67] is another person on whom we have counted. We tweaked her game in the fall and she looked more like herself last weekend.”
One local dots the roster in Mackenzie Olesky (189.57), the senior from Girard and team average leader heading into last week’s KU Invitational.
Emma Dockery, a freshman from Ravenna, is making an impact with a 181 average.
“Mackenzie had an excellent weekend, especially Sunday during Baker games while Emma is consistent, makes her spares and does well under pressure,” she said.
Gilliam said Rachel Ellis (183.22) is a great team player who steps into the lineup when needed and Emily Dietz (176.91) remains consistent with her first ball strike, adding that Ashley Kolb (180.71), the teams’ only lefty, has thrown an excellent ball thus far.
Rounding out the roster is sophomore Julia Helke, and freshmen Kirsten McMullen and Dominique Stevenson.
Seeking a conference affiliation is one of Gilliam’s top priorities.
“We applied to the Northeast Conference, but were denied,” she said. “We’re still looking and want to get into a conference as soon as possible because of how they’ve changed qualifying for the tournament.
A breast cancer survivor going on four years now, Gilliam had a scare last October when a spot was found on her most recent scan.
“The doctor ordered more tests and everything came back all right, so we will keep it monitored,” Gillam said. “The medicine and treatment remains the same, my next scan is set for next week and we always keep our fingers crossed.
“I’m really grateful and blessed that so many care and continue to follow me during my journey in beating this.”
Curbstone’s annual High School Football Recognition Banquet is set for Sunday at Mt. Carmel Banquet Center with Youngstown State head football coach Bo Pelini to serve as guest speaker.
The program begins at 4 p.m. with doors opening at 3 p.m.