NORTH CANTON  The Hoover bowling teams are ready to embark on a new season and this year, they’ll have a new head coach leading the way.

Jeff Sabella has taken over the program this season after serving as the varsity girls coach last season, with Austin Crowe taking over the girls team, Preston Vukovich overseeing the boys team and Sabella as head coach. The 1978 Hoover graduate has also coached junior bowling at Park Centre Lanes for the last seven years.

He presides over a girls team coming off a winning season and run to the district tournament, where the Vikings narrowly missed out on qualifying for the state tournament with a squad had two sophomores and four freshmen on the varsity roster. They captured the Federal League and the Federal Conference by going 15-1, beating previously undefeated Perry at Hall of Fame Lanes on a tiebreaker, the first-ever championship for the team.

Sabella hopes that momentum will keep rolling this winter.

"The strength of the girls team is truly their chemistry and how they bowl together as a team," Sabella said. "I have had many comments by other coaches about how impressive they are and how they bowl as a team. They have a lot of fun bowling together."

Last season, senior Kayla Vannatten, (196 average) and junior Natalie Sommers (188 average) earned first-team All-Federal League honors and three others made all-league teams as well, but Sabella believes they can each take another step forward this season.

As part of last season’s record-setting run, the girls team also set the all-time single baker game conference record with a 267 and the second-highest all-time conference high baker series with 889.

Goals for the team this year, along with the boys program, are high.

"The focus this season for both the boys and girls teams will be to make it to the state tournament. The lane condition or oiling patterns get progressively more difficult from sectionals to districts and then to state tournament," Sabella said. "Our tournament schedule has been designed to bowl on more difficult lane conditions later in the season like the tournaments sponsored by Muskingum University and Youngstown State where they put out collegiate oil patterns."

Stops at the Youngstown State Holiday varsity tournament, the Muskingum University High School Invitational in Zanesville and the Baker Marathon tournament at Wyatt Webb's Columbus Bowl will all be part of the preparation process.

The program’s booster club also donated funds to purchase a professional video coaching system specifically for bowling. This is going to be a substantial coaching tool for both the boys and girls, a tool Sabella and his staff hope will be valuable in the growth process.

The boys team will have its own strengths this season, having shown what Sabella described as significant progress over the course of last season, finishing with a winning conference record. Among the returners, David Sprout III and Greg Blondheim are the top leading scorers.

"This kid throws the ball with a lot of power. If I can get him to implement and execute some discipline in his game and apply a few changes he could easily average 200-plus," Sabella said of Sprout.

Alex Blondheim, Logan Tully, Jared Kittinger and Clayton Bunnell are also back and after a lot of technique work last season, the coaches believe those concepts should come together this season with positive results.

"My expectation for the team is for both the girls and the boys to win the Federal League championship and go to the state tournament, that will be the team's goal every season," Sabella said.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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