On Feb. 11 and Feb. 19, the Cabot High School girls and Boys bowling teams competed in the Class 7A/6A conference and state tournaments.
At the conference tournament in Conway, both boys and girls were able to win their third consecutive conference title giving the program nine combined in seven years.
The following week in Cabot at the state tournament, the Panthers won their third consecutive state championship while the girls finished second for the third time since 2010. This state championship gives the program their sixth in the same time period while adding its fourth runner-up trophy in the process.
"It is very exciting when a down year for your program results in both boys and girls winning conference and one team wins the state championship while the other finishes runner-up," Cabot coach Mike Nash said. "We have had a tremendous run over the last six years. Now we have to reload and keep going. I am tremendously proud of our kids."
Nash said several people have contributed to this run.
"First and foremost is Bill Allen and his staff at Allfam," he said. Without his generosity, the bowling team could simply not exist. Next is the administration at Cabot. Starting with Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman, Athletic Director Coach Steve Roberts and High School Principal Henry Hawkins."
Nash said they have been supportive beyond measure. In addition, the district’s school board members have attended several matches over the last few years and have given the bowlers several recognitions. The Panther Education Foundation has also been extremely generous by donating money to help our kids in purchasing their championship rings. Also, First Arkansas Bank and Trust has been kind enough to dedicate a billboard to our team that the bowlers are very proud of. Finally, Assistant Coach Ralph Pridmore has given up hundreds of hours of his time to help coach and mentor the teams over the years without any compensation. Nash says when he talks with other bowing coaches throughout the state about school and community support, his is widely unmatched.
At conference on Feb. 11, the Panthers were led by senior Adrian Nicholas, who bowled a 705 series, highlighted by games of 244 and 256. Senior Jace Jennings was next at 692, which included a tournament high game of 279. Senior Matt Hicks added a 654 series with a high game of 246. Nicholas, Jennings and Hicks finished as the Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalists making two consecutive years that Panther bowlers have claimed the top three positions at conference. Senior Michael Nashed bowled a 628 series, senior Cayden Cook added a 540 series, junior Zac Couch bowled a two game total of 425 and senior Tyler Lucas had a 169 game. Nicholas, Jennings, Hicks and Nashed were named to the All-Conference team.
"Conference was a good warm up for state," said Nash, "while we had a high team total of 4,596, I think we left some pins on the lanes, especially from Cayden, he is capable of so much more and I think at state he will deliver."
For the Lady Panthers, they came away with their fifth overall conference title. Junior Allie Stalnaker finished as the Gold Medalist with a 581 series, marking the fifth consecutive year the Gold Medalist at conference was a Lady Panther. Assisting Stalnaker was junior Corbin Friddle with a series of 502, senior Miranda Antimo’s 493, sophomore Megan Bugiel’s 564, freshmen Lauren Bunting’s 437 and sophomore Micah Perry’s 407. Making the All-Conference team for the Lady Panthers were Stalnaker, Friddle and Antimo.
The conference tournament was the first time in four years the Lady Panthers stepped onto the lanes without four time All-State bowler Shelby Smith, who is now at Louisiana Tech.
"I was not sure how we would respond without Shelby," Nash said. "I knew our team was very capable because we are a bit deeper than previous years. We could always count on Shelby giving us a 600-plus series which we lived on for four years. I was glad our girls believed in themselves, their effort proved it. I am very proud and happy for them."
The following week in Cabot, Allfam hosted the state championship, the first time since 2009 state has been held in Cabot. While the boys were able to take advantage of the setting the girls fell just short. During last year’s post season, both teams set or tied five state records. This year the Panthers broke two records and tied one. All things considered, the day was very good for both teams. T
he first record to fall was the post season tournament individual series set last year by Fayetteville’s Bryant Ezell, who bowled an 806 series. The second record to fall was the postseason tournament team total set by last year’s Panther team who finished with a total of 4854. Lastly, the Panthers tied Norfok with the most state championships, three. In the state record book, the Panthers are on top of six of the ten records.
"I am still not believing what I saw, that was absolutely incredible and a lot of fun to watch especially since he was bowling for Cabot," said Nash of the record setting performance by Cook at state.
Cook bowled games of 279, 297 and 268. In those games, he had 33 strikes, one spare, one open and one seven count. In his second game, Cook had 11 strikes in a row but did not convert on his last ball for the three hundred.
"Every person in the alley knew what Cayden was doing and all eyes were on him," Nash said. Teams had stopped bowling to see if he could get his 300, it was a special moment."
With Cook’s record, both boys and girls individual series records are now held by Cabot Panthers. The second record the Panthers set was the team total. Adding to Cook’s 842 record series was Jennings’ 688, Couch’s 648, Nicholas’ 645, Nashed’s 623, Freshmen Cole Stillman’s 170, Hicks’ 169 and Lucas’ 162. All these scores totaled 4,880 to set the new record.
Senior Adrian Nicholas said of the new record, "We talked about the possibility of the setting the record again after the individual games. We felt pretty confident about already having the championship won so we focused on the record during the Bakers games."
The 4,880 series was enough to beat second place Bentonville by 617 pins, which is seven pins fewer then the state record the team set last year. And finally, the team tied Norfork, which won three state championships from 2008-2011. Cook was the state’s Gold Medalist while Jennings was the Silver Medalist. This is the first time a Panther other than Shelby Smith has medaled at the state level. Cook, Jennings, Couch and Nicholas were named to the All-State Team.
For the girls, history repeated itself. Since their first championship in 2009, the Lady Panthers have finished runner-up in the even years of 2010, 2012 and now 2014 while winning in the odd years of 2009, 2011 and 2013. Nash says its fate.
"I am very superstitious when it comes to sports and I am a firm believer in streaks," Nash said. "So bet the house on us next year."
The Lady Panthers fell to the Lady Tigers of Bentonville by 81 pins and now have 122 pins separating them from three additional state championships.
The Lady Panthers were again led by Stalnaker, an All-State selection, who bowled a 567 series and missed medaling by three pins. Bunting finished with 513, Perry added a 483 series, Friddle followed with 480, Antimo finished with 469 and Bugiel contributed with a 406 series. The Lady Panthers total of 3566 would have been good enough to win in previous years, just not this one.
Nash gives Bentonville credit, saying "their girls came out the first game and put us down by 70 pins which is basically their margin of victory. Our girls made a charge a couple of times, but Bentonville always answered. We competed well, just not well enough. I am still extremely proud and pleased with their effort."