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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Hawks miss the postseason but have pieces in place for the future(College Bowling)

NTCA Regional honoree Torres to be lone loss

PRINCESS ANNE, Maryland — When the dust settled around the finish of The University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s 2021-22 bowling campaign, there was both regret and optimism.

Hawks miss postseason but have pieces in place for the future

For a team that finished the year with a 73-50 overall record and reached the semifinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Bowling Tournament — after a year off from competition and with just six members of the roster due to transfers — the sting of not reaching the NCAA Tournament still lingers.

But with recently minted All-American Brooke Roberts (Port Orange, Florida) returning next season as the centerpiece to next year’s squad alongside four now competition-tested teammates and offseason additions to come, the future is bright.

A move ahead to next season will, unfortunately, come with the loss of graduate student Paulina Torres (Ponce, Puerto Rico) who returned this season with hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament.

“I think for us more than anything we wanted it for Paulina at the very end,” first-year head coach Roger Petrin said. “Not just me, but the team as a whole wanted to do something great for her and I think that if there is any disappointment in the way that we finished this year, it was that we weren’t able to go further for her.”

But the cupboard will not be bare.

Along with Roberts and her recent National Tenpin Coaches Association honors the team also returns Second-Team All-MEAC selection Elizabeth Ross (Schenectady, New York), Junior Team Mexico member Gabriella Ochoa Hubbard (Nogales, Sonora, Mexico), Alejandra Amezcua (Baja California, Mexico) and Brooke Driver (Woodbridge, Virginia).

“I don’t think I need to say anything,” Petrin said. “I think the girls do recognize the accomplishments that they had this year. I think that proves why they are disappointed. I think they have a sense that we have something bigger in us than what we just did. We have the capability of competing with anyone in the country.”

Ross, who transferred from Vanderbilt prior to the 2020-21 season, was in just her first season of competition as a Hawk.

Despite that, the lefty earned Second-Team All-MEAC honors and was among the team leaders in many categories. She finished third in average per frame (19.42), second in overall fill percentage (83.3%), tied for third with Amezcua in first ball average (8.88), was third in strike percentage (43.9%), third in spare conversion percentage (70.2%), third in ‘makeable’ spare conversion percentage (79.5%), second in single-pin spare conversion percentage (88.8%) and third in split conversion percentage (14.4%).

“Liz and I have butted heads, but I think she’s more like me than she would like to admit and that’s a lot of it,” Petrin said. “We have a lot of really high moments and then some others, but ultimately we are on the same page a lot of times. One of the key moments of the year was when we all learned how to play the lanes appropriately and at the same time I learned how to explain what I am seeing on the lanes in a way that they could understand and that came because of a conversation with her.”

Amezcua has consistently been one of the hardest workers on the team, but two years ago bowled inconsistently in her first season on the lanes. She finished this year third on the squad in frames bowled (1,126), third in overall fill percentage (80.2%), tied with Ross for third in First-Ball Average (8.88), third in first-ball 9+ Percentage (69.5%), and second in strike percentage (45%) despite it just being her second season of competition.

“I think she is a great athlete and she can do things to a bowling ball that a lot of men can’t,” Petrin said. “I also think she has a big heart and she puts it all on herself to be the best that she can be. I think the way the season ended she’s definitely not happy with her performance. She had the one all-tournament finish this season which is the highlight of her current college career. I say current because there is so much more out there for her to come. She is going to be a really good bowler.”

Hubbard finished the season with a 185.5 overall average and posted 20 games with a 200-or-better pinfall despite this being her first season on the lanes. She was strong during the MEAC Championship weekend with a 215.8 Traditional average and threw some good shots in Baker play despite the pins not falling her way on the way to a 171.9 Baker average.

“I thought she was on the border of making the All-Tournament team at the MEAC Championships,” Petrin said. “She bowled really well. She threw a ton of really good shots and in our post-competition meeting, I said that and everyone agreed. I have said that Brooke (Roberts) arguably has grown the most, but I think Gaby and Brooke Driver are right there as well.

“The second she started seeing the ball go through the pins the way she is capable of doing it, her confidence skyrocketed. Now she is in the pocket every shot. I’m really excited for her next year to finish what we started.”

Driver perhaps struggled the most to regain her bowling form after a year away from competition, but she made the most of her time on the lanes in practice and by the end of the season had gained the confidence of her teammates and more importantly herself.

She averaged 173.8 on the year, but her numbers climbed significantly as the season went on and she finished the season at No. 3 in the country in Split Conversion Rate in Traditional play with a 34.6%.

“I think she is finally allowing herself to be herself with the team,” Petrin said. “She is so different from everyone else on the team and that brings us an edge once she was able to embrace it. As she recognized her place on the team, she is getting more confident and there is still more room for her to grow. We made some changes to her fit and I’m going to give her some things to work on over the summer that are only going to help.”

But, despite five returners, the loss of a veteran leader in Torres will certainly be felt.

Petrin, who moved 1,200 miles to become the Maryland Eastern Shore bowling coach, uprooted his wife and two-year-old daughter, and jumped feet first into the next chapter of Hawks bowling, could probably never have expected that someone who had spent the last four years in Princess Anne would be as much of a help as Torres was.

“Paulina is a woman that any team would be lucky to have,” Petrin said. “Me transitioning over from Kentucky Wesleyan to here isn’t an easy one both personally and professionally. I feel like some days, especially early, I was just trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. Paulina was my go to for everything I did at the very beginning before I ever stepped foot on campus. She never said no to anything. She never said she was too busy, she always took on more.

“It doesn’t go unappreciated. I never took her for granted this year and I wish I had her for another two or three years. I think the team feels the same way. We wish we had her longer.”

While Paulina was both a calming presence and a fiery confident one depending on what the team needed, she also showed her value on the lanes when attacking pins as well and earned Third-Team All-MEAC honors this season for her efforts. She was also named NTCA All-Northeast Region.

She finished No. 5 in the nation in Overall Spare Conversion % with 75.9 and was also No. 12 in Traditional format (76.4%) and No. 10 In Baker format (75.7%). She was No. 11 in the country in strike percentage as a leadoff bowler with 47.8%. She also finished No 12 in “Makeable” Spare conversion percentage in Traditional format with 88.1%. She was also No. 47 in the NTCAs in the Individual Player Composite Index. She finished her Hawks career with 46 careers 200 games.

“Paulina’s game has a high floor and a pretty high ceiling,” Petrin said. “There were some days she was lights out this year. We could rely on her to fill frames and that showed in the numbers including her top-fill percentage this year. She was a rock this year both physically and mentally.

“Leadership is leadership, but with her it was different. She provided the example of being a real leader. It isn’t about acting like one. She didn’t ask to be a leader. I don’t appoint leadership and I do that for a reason. The people who are going to step up and be the leaders are just those people. You can’t force it. Whether she wanted it or not the team looked to her and she was able to take control of that.”

Next year’s team has already begun to take shape with additions sure to bring their own skills and to a team Petrin called the “best damn seven-person team in the country.” As the team looks ahead to next season and begins to visualize what another run at the NCAA Tournament looks like after coming up short this year, Petrin isn’t worried about Torres finding her own success.

“It doesn’t matter what she goes and does in her life, she is going to be successful,” Petrin said. “That’s what I am most proud of. I’m not sure what she was like before. I’m sure she was a similar person, but I would like to think that she grew a lot over this year and what I was able to help her with is going to help her to be able to do whatever she wants to in life.”

Next season, those who remain won’t be able to rest on this year’s accomplishments. But they know that and are looking forward to getting back to work.

“I stress this with every team I have coached,” Petrin said. “We are not the same team next year. You don’t have four years to win a national championship, you have one. It doesn’t matter what I say right now. What matters is our goal setting when we come together in August. That is when we really get started.”

For more information on Eastern Shore Athletics visit http://www.easternshorehawks.com/.

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