NORTH CANTON Making history at a school with a long and storied athletic track record is always nice.

The Hoover girls bowling team did precisely that at the Austintown district tournament, winning the first district title and earning the first state tournament berth in program history.

"They really didn’t take it for granted until end of the last Baker game. That’s when they realized that they were that far ahead of anyone else and had it locked up, but they didn’t really celebrate until that last ball was thrown," Hoover bowling head coach Jeff Sabella said. "They were very excited and very emotional. Our starters have working hard for three years and went to districts when all freshmen and sophomores, but they missed district cut by about 90 pins."

That group has stayed intact over the course of three seasons, inching steadily closer to qualifying for the state level but not quite reaching it until this year. With a team score of 3,678, the Vikings easily outpaced the field, one that included some of their Federal League rivals.

Sabella admitted that while he teaches his bowlers not to worry about anyone’s performance but their own - bowling is one of the few sports where competitors have no chance to affect their opponents’ results by playing any sort of defense - seeing league rivals such as Jackson and Perry attain postseason success and send teams to the state tournament did motivate Hoover to do the same.

Prior to the season, the Vikings set their own goals for the year and in chasing them, began to rack up some impressive results. They went 15-2 overall and 10-2 in league play, placing first in three tournaments and second in three others.

Ironically, one of the motivating factors in the year may have been an early loss to Jackson. In that match, Sabella noted, the Polar Bears bowled very well and Hoover wasn’t able to find its rhythm coming off a tournament the previous weekend.

Another key factor in the season, according to Sabella and girls team coach Austin Crowe, was a new approach to training. While not wanting to share too many trade secrets, Sabella described the training method as one that took the ball out of his bowlers’ hands - literally.

"We used a new program to train during the season. We taught them how to bowl in these types of settings and we worked on a lot of stuff without the bowling ball," Sabella said. "We did a lot of dry drills, working on proper timing, proper tempo, proper arm position and proper body posture."

That combination of motivation and training has taken Hoover on a memorable run, culminating in their 3,678-pin total at the district tournament, giving them a winning margin of 216 pins and there first-ever trip to Columbus for the program.

They rallied past Stow, whom they trailed by 30 pins after one game, and tallied a 1,043 score in Baker games to pull away for the win. Junior Erin Holb led the Vikings with a 560 series and senior Kayla VanNatten added 559, while Crowe pointed to senior Carly Sabella as a valuable part of the mix as well. Asked which of the team’s competitors has been a vocal leader during the course of the year, Crowe pointed to Carly Sabella, who raised her average from 166 as a junior to 192 as a senior, earning all-league and all-conference honors in the process.

"We’re just working toward the goals we set and trying to stay focused," Jeff Sabella said.

Given the success that other Hoover programs have enjoyed - softball’s multiple state titles, the swimming and diving teams’ strong run in recent years and the girls basketball team’s deep tournament runs during the past decade, to name a few - being able to make school history by securing their first state berth was a big moment for the members of the girls bowling team.

As they reveled in their big win and got a handle on what it meant, the Vikings did their share of celebrating, but did so with the understanding that their mission wasn’t yet complete. They had won a district title, but that championship trophy was also a golden ticket to the next level, one where they would have a chance to make history all over again.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB