W.F. West Girls Bowling Looking for First District Title
By Eric Trent
When W.F. West started its girls bowling program three years ago not one of the 20 girls had ever picked up a bowling ball.
Now, the Bearcats are the undefeated 2A Evergreen Conference champions heading into districts on Friday and are one of the favorites to win the 1A/2A state championship.
Head coach Don Bunker, along with his father and assistant coach, Rich Bunker, opened the program three years ago after Don, a teacher in Chehalis the past 13 years, spent nearly a decade convincing the school district to let them start the team.
“We were pretty excited when they decided it would be a good opportunity for our girls to have something else to do,” Don said. “It’s been awesome.”
The Bearcats were the first Lewis County school to add a bowling team, with Rochester kicking off its program the following year. The father and son duo started from the ground up, teaching the sport to a group of kids that had never flung a bowling ball at 10 pins.
Senior Ellie Bunker, Don’s niece and Rich’s granddaughter, was one of those first-time bowlers three years ago.
“It was definitely intimidating,” Ellie said. “All the schools we bowled against had built their programs up for so long, so we were definitely nervous.”
Usually it takes a team years to become an established perennial contender, especially when all the players are picking up the sport for the first time.
It didn’t take W.F. West very long.
The Bearcats didn’t qualify for state as a team that first year in 2018, but they did send two bowlers to state. The second year, which was last season? They placed third at state as a team after finishing second in the conference and at districts.
Now the Bearcats are sitting at 15-0, 10-0 after tearing through competition and capturing the first conference championship in the school’s — although short — bowling history.
“We’ve come a long way in three years,” Rich said.
Their dominating run this season includes victories over defending state champion Mark Morris and 2019 state runnersup Black Hills, the only two teams that finished higher than them at state last year.
To say the Bearcats are state contenders would not be a stretch.
“They really have the goal of winning districts and winning state this year, because they came so close last year,” Don said.
Their top bowler wasn’t even on the team last season, she was in eighth grade. Freshman phenom Piper Chalmers leads the team in average at 196. At just 15 years old, she already has a decade of experience and is the only team member who didn’t begin their bowling career in high school.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Chalmers said of their run this year. “Our goal is to win state and districts.”
But she’s not the only one who’s primed to make noise.
Ellie is second on the team with a 186 average and placed fourth at state in 2019, in just her second year playing the sport. She practices about 12 hours a week in preparation for districts.
“It’s crazy, it’s awesome,” Ellie said. “I put a lot of work in with my uncle and grandpa. It paid off.”
Also returning is senior Kelsey Stritmatter, who placed 12th at state in 2019, is averaging 172 this season and is a threat to place top-10 this year. Also on varsity are juniors Brianna Powe (170), and Jessica Loflin (160), sophomore Cami Aldrich (165) and freshman Clara Bunker (148).
“There probably aren’t any boys in our high school who could beat them,” said Rich, a Lewis County Bowling Association Hall of Famer.
State is held Feb. 6-8 in University Place, Washington. But first, they’re focused on winning districts, which begins at 9 a.m., Friday, at Fairway Lanes. They’re going for their first district title in program history.
“Districts first,” Ellie said. “We’re going to focus on districts first, then hopefully after districts, state championship.”