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All-Conference bowlers

Three members of the Alexandria high school bowling team got a taste of what some of the competition will be like in the state tournament this Saturday when they took part in the all-conference tournament this past weekend.

Nicholas Schiltgen, Will Harding and Austin Klimek are a big reason for the Cardinals' 10-2 record and their place in the state tournament at Echo Lanes in Austin tomorrow. All three players bowled on the All-West Central South Conference team in the all-conference tournament, which was hosted by Garden Center Lanes last Saturday. The tournament featured the eight best bowlers from all 20 conferences in the state based on fill percentages throughout the year.

Schiltgen, Harding and Klimek all played well enough to help lead the WCC South team to a six-place finish. Now their sights are set on helping Alexandria chase an overall state title.

"I'm excited about the way the three kids in our conference tournament bowled up there," head coach Chad Meyer said. "Our kids bowled pretty good, so I would say we would have a pretty good shot [going into state]."

It is an event that will allow Alexandria to see how it stacks up against the other top 23 teams in the state. Each team will bowl 10 games of qualifying before the top 16 teams move on to a double elimination format.

The Cardinals won't be the favorites heading into the tournament based on team rankings. Alexandria was ranked the 32nd best team in the state in the latest rankings on the Minnesota High School Bowling website. That ranking is based on three things - team average, game winning percentage and match winning percentage. It is also a system that Meyer does not put a lot of stock into.

"I'm not one who goes online and looks at all the other teams," he said. "It's not a real fair shake. In bowling, lane conditions dictate the scoring. In the out-state areas, we put down lane conditions that are a little tougher than the metro areas. So it's tough to say. But the kids have bowled pretty well all year."

Alexandria has a number of bowlers who are capable of putting up high scores. Harding was named the conference MVP this season after posting a fill percentage of 82.14. He is one of two Cardinals who were ranked in the top 101 bowlers in the state on November 13. Harding was listed at No. 66, while Klimek came in not far behind as the 76th ranked player.

"Will has made a huge improvement from the last couple of years to this year," Meyer said. "Austin is a junior and he's been the highest fill percentage on the team for the last couple of years. I thought it would have been Austin making a run to win that [conference] MVP. Not to take anything away from Will. He really made a big improvement. Jared Schmidt from Montevideo had won it the previous two years, so he beat some good bowlers to get it."

The success that Harding and the rest of his teammates have had is a testament to the work they put in on the lanes. The group, consisting of Harding, Klimek, Lauren Engebretson, Rico Tejado, Seth Bogatzki, Ben Hausmann and Nicholas and Jacob Shiltgen, practice four days a week as a team. When they are not together as a team, most are at Garden Center in their free time working on their game.

"We practice Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday after school for a couple hours a day," Meyer said. "Once the competition starts, those are on Saturdays, so we bowl a couple of matches each time. These guys and Lauren, our only girl, are bowling five days a week just with us. Then they are putting in their time on their own, too. These kids bowl an awful lot, and they've been bowling a number of years now."

That dedication has paid off with another trip to the state tournament. They now hope it can lead them to a tournament title tomorrow.

"Obviously, the No. 1 goal is to win a state title," Meyer said. "There are certain teams that you look at every year. White Bear Lake - they won it last year. That's a team that if they are there, we want to beat. Burnsville, for their conference at the all-conference tournament, they had four players on that. That's half the team. So that tells me they are a team that we want to be able to stack up against.

"We want to be in that top 16 that advances, and we would like to be in the upper half so we can avoid the top seeds early. This team has always been a tough match-play team. We feel we can match up. I guess the old saying is to just go bowl and if we don't come out on top, then we got beat by a team that was just better than us. We just don't want to go out there and beat ourselves."