On paper, the 2018-19 season was a great one for the Elizabethtown Area High School bowling team.
The Bears finished 99-20 overall in the regular season, going 76-15 in section play. That was good for second in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, behind eventual league champion Warwick, the only team they lost to outside of Garden Spot. Nine Elizabethtown bowlers made it to regionals as individuals, where the girls team finished second, eventually taking sixth at states.
But there were missed opportunities too. After missing out on the league playoffs during the 2017-18 season, the Bears lost to Cocalico in the first round. No one from the team made it to states individually; everyone turned in mixed outings at both districts and regionals, especially sobering for the five seniors on the roster.
Now, they’re gone, and Elizabethtown is looking at a bit of a reset. Much of this year’s group is inexperienced when it comes to consistent varsity time. Thankfully for the Bears, 10 returning players got the chance to play in at least one game last season. But things will not get any easier in Section Two, especially with Warwick still at the top of the standings. Head coach Frank Telenko noted that his team was lucky to play Cedar Crest, the Section One champions, in the first game in 2018, a luxury they won’t have this time around.
“I don’t always come into every season and say that the goal is to win a section title, but I can say that I coach to win one,” Coach Telenko said. “I lost a lot of talent last year. But I’m not gonna say I want to finish second or third. Plus, when my own kids are on the team, I can’t go home at night and tell them we aren’t trying to win the section. As the adult, you have to look at it logically. The nice part is you have young kids who are hungry and want to do well.”
When it comes to tournaments and the postseason, where Elizabethtown has to split the boys and girls teams apart, the former is in better position, having lost just two seniors, though both were stalwarts in the program: Patrick Hoffmaster, who played in a team-high 43 games and ranked second on the team with a scoring average of 206.84, and Bradley Ruth, who was third with a 205.41 average and is currently bowling for Penn State Berks.
On the other hand, three of the guys who will be back in 2019 made it to regionals alongside Hoffmaster: senior Andrew Telenko (Coach Telenko’s son), senior Ben Davis and sophomore Daniel Eberle. Among the junior class, Gabe Berrier would’ve been second on the team in scoring average had he bowled in more than 10 games last year (he had a 211 in seven games). Fellow junior Zach Deardorff notably carried the team to a second-place finish at the Snowroller Showdown last December as well.
Outside of that group, just two other players (senior Logan Ginder and sophomore Ayden Pope) got varsity time during the regular season. But there are currently 20 other bowlers waiting in the wings for an opportunity, six of them freshmen. Josh Hammons and Zach Wentzel have stood out during the preseason out of that group, who will be looking to the upperclassmen, especially Andrew, for leadership.
“I always feel like I’ve been a little bit overlooked,” he said. “I remember, in my first year, I was the only player who didn’t get a varsity letter at the banquet. That kind of stuck with me. It’s just the drive. I really want to be on lane three and four putting in the work and showing them what I got.”
“On a given day, I can have eight to 10 bowlers who will fight to get into the lineup,” Coach Telenko said. “If you take a look at the sophomore and freshman group, you got guys like Daniel and Josh who can put some things together. It just depends on how good they want to be. After that, you have to put in the work that goes with the desire.”
The girls, meanwhile, might be headed for a bit of a down spell. There were just six on the team last year, enough for them to compete in the postseason. But three of them were seniors. Katelyn Garman led the team with a 214.43 scoring average, having finished sixth at leagues. Elizabeth Vuxta (198.11) and Abby Chaffins (195.72) were reliable contributors as well.
The good news for the Lady Bears is that the remaining three bowlers will be back. Junior Eryn Moore holds the most experience out of anyone on this year’s roster, having appeared in 29 games last season en route to an average of 195.82. Sophomores Alaina Telenko (Coach Telenko’s daughter) and Hannah Griffie were also able to get valuable experience at states too. But unless they’re able to recruit two more girls before the season begins, their run at states is over, though the girls will be able to bowl for the boys team if it comes to that. Elizabethtown had led all girls teams in Pennsylvania with six straight appearances.
“That’s the part that was the hardest to come to grips with,” Coach Telenko said. “I know Eryn and Alaina were looking forward to it since it’s out in Pittsburgh this year. There’s nothing we can do about it. I think the fact that Eryn was able to be around the girls and watch how they did things for two years is big. She’s backed it up by putting in the time, and people know it’s very easy to follow her lead.”
“What’s motivating me to do better is not having a girls team,” Moore said. “I’m pushing myself to be the best that I can be so that I can help the rest of the guys now and focus on making it to states as an individual in February and March. I contributed decently as a sophomore, but this year, it’s gonna require a higher step-up.”
Coach Telenko noted that it’s not a bad thing to be bowling for the junior varsity team during matches this season, given that he plans to be as flexible as possible with the varsity lineup due to the team’s depth. Considering that Elizabethtown leaned heavily on its seniors in 2018 (outside of Moore, no one else bowled in more than 20 games), that’ll be good for the team’s long-term health. The Bears can adopt a new identity while trying their best to live up to the previous successes of the program.
“Sometimes, we feel that pressure, especially at the end of the season,” Moore said. “The goal has always been to get our section jackets since my freshman year, and we’ve been struggling to do that since Warwick moved down. I think we’re kind of starting over this year. We basically have a whole new varsity lineup. We have a lot of learning to do that, but we’ll also have a lot of opportunities.”
“No matter what, you never stop learning,” Andrew Telenko said. “You always got to listen to Coach. I learned to be more positive. Sometimes, my confidence wouldn’t be there, so that’s something I’ve been working on. (Last year’s seniors) taught me a lot of that, so I’m taking that with me moving forward.”
“This healthy competition is gonna be good for us,” Coach Telenko said. “I don’t know what the team felt like when we got to end and it was boys and girls. Now, when we don’t have that, they’re fighting for a spot, and they got to finish first or second to get to regionals. I’m looking forward to it. All of that match experience that they’re gonna gain on a regular basis is gonna be huge. It’s always been my goal to build a program, instead of having a great team.”
While the Bears are tempering expectations somewhat, they’ll also have their eyes on Pittsburgh. The last time the boys team made it to states was 2012, and with no girls team for now, that will have to be the goal for this season, along with qualifying as many individuals as possible. But that’s also a long way away. Elizabethtown has the L-L to focus on first.
“I don’t think that they think about that kind of stuff, honestly,” Coach Telenko said. “Kids today don’t necessarily think about the past; they think about the present, the here and now. They don’t have to live up to anything; they want to make their own mark, and they want to come out and work their tails off to do it. I think they put more pressure on themselves in trying to perform for each other.”
“It’s gonna take a lot of fundamentals,” Moore said. “Our bond as a team needs to be really strong. We have to trust and have faith in each other.”
“We just have to take it one match at a time,” Andrew Telenko said. “I think if we overlook anyone, we’re gonna get ourselves in trouble. Bowling down to our competition is not gonna cut it. We have to go in with the same mindset as we do with Penn Manor and Warwick. If we do that, we’ll be in Pittsburgh in no time.”