SCHENECTADY — You never know.
Kiara Beehm threw a pretty good shot with the potential for a strike during the Schenectady High girls’ bowling team practice on Tuesday afternoon at Boulevard Bowl.
The 10 pin didn’t think so highly of it, standing in defiance, and remained so when the righty Beehm’s second shot dropped in the gutter at the last moment.
Her teammate Shane’ Terry was off target with one of hers, leaving a dicy 2-7-8, but the second shot from the smooth lefty angled in perfectly to clip the left side of the 2 and barrel through the 7 and 8 for a spare.
In either case, there would be fist bumps.
Any success the Patriots have this season surely will be a product of the fact that, although Beehm is the standout, they’re solid bowlers top to bottom, with the potential for a breakout performance from just about anybody on any given day.
And there’s the experience factor, with some holdovers from Schenectady’s remarkable run to a rare Section II Class A championship in 2020.
It goes deeper than that, though. As unexpected as the 2020 championship was, so, too, was the death of their coach, long-time Schenectady High physical education teacher Karen Daffner, in the middle of the 2021 season.
A year later, the 2022 version of the Patriots are a strong team that, assuming the tournament isn’t canceled by COVID-19 concerns, expects to take another shot at the Section II title. If that happens, the power of camaraderie the team enjoys, reinforced by the shared experience of last season and the passing of Daffner, likely will be a factor, too.
“The camaraderie on this team is probably the best since I’ve been on it,” said Terry, a senior who has been on the team since seventh grade. “It’s always been great, but we became really, really close this year. We’re all really super-close.”
“That’s really important,” coach Sharon Sager said. “They’re not playing against each other, they’re a cohesive team.”
The Patriots have given every indication that they’re among the top contenders in Class A.
Until a loss to Colonie last week, Schenectady had rattled off 10 straight wins to start the season, for which Beehm, Kaylee Beehm, Terry, Ashley Wolf, Elizabeth Wolf, Selena Wolf, Ajiana Martinez and Norah Delaney were recognized by the school as Team of the Week on Jan. 13.
Kiara Beehm’s average has been flirting with 190, while most everyone else is in the 160s and 170s, giving the lineup some depth to lean on if somebody’s having a bad day.
“We never expected to start out like we did this year,” Sager said. “We were 10-0, and we beat Colonie, and we beat Columbia, which we’ve never done in the six years I’ve been affiliated with this team.
“Anybody can make it pop at any time. And when you have five, six girls that are solid, they make spares. That’s what I liked about this team. They’re just good spare bowlers. The strikes will come, but the spares … we don’t have a superstar. To me, that’s good.
“Kiara, being a high-average bowler, she bowled 235 the other day and lost. The girl that was shooting against her shot 237. But you can’t let that bring you down. There’s five other girls, and you never give up.”
“We took our first loss last Wednesday, which was disappointing, but it was good going into sectionals, not feeling like we’re undefeated and nobody can beat us,” Terry said. “But we do know that, going into sectionals, we have a target on our back. All we can really do is keep doing what we’ve been doing, and control ourselves.”
Schenectady, with Daffner as head coach and Sager as the assistant, did not have a target on its back in 2020, having finished fourth in the Suburban Council.
Based on that, their goal was to finish in third at sectionals.
Bolstered by Kiara Beehm’s 246, the Patriots made a big move in the fifth game, but before the smoke cleared from the sixth and final game, they had no idea where they stood. The final tally was Schenectady with 5,647 total pins, a minuscule 35 pins ahead of the next best score, by Colonie.
It was the first Section II championship by a girls’ team from Schenectady, in any sport, since volleyball had won a title 16 years earlier.
“It was amazing. Still have no words for it, really, other than I was in tears,” said Ashley Wolf, now a senior. “So happy. I’m not going to lie, it was nerve-racking. But when I found out, it was all tears.”
“I think we were fourth going in, which was good, because nobody had any expectations for us,” Sager said. “I’m a firm believer in one game at a time, and the girls can only control what you yourselves can control. Annnd … they pulled it out.
“It was close. In fact, we didn’t even know that we won. Karen was the statistician. My job was, clearly, just the skills part, because I’m a bowler. Neither one of us knew we’d won. I had gone to the ladies room, and somebody said, ‘Congratulations. You won’ … I said, ‘What?'”
“It was really big, because no girls’ team, since the volleyball team, has done that in years,” Kiara Beehm said. “So for us, it was a really big thing.
“We were kind of waiting and were really surprised. Coach Daffner went in, and everybody was like, ‘Congratulations,’ and she said, ‘For what?’ Then we all started crying. We were just so happy, because we had no idea, and it was really close.”
When Daffner unexpectedly got sick just before the start of last season, she performed her coaching duties remotely, while Sager, a Schenectady Bowling Association Hall of Famer, did the hands-on work at Boulevard, lending her extensive technical expertise to the effort.
Sager said it never occurred to either her or her friend that Daffner wouldn’t at least make it through the season, but Daffner died of cancer on Jan. 15, about halfway through.
“Yeah. That was hard last year, because she went so quickly,” Sager said. “And we had just taken a picture, everybody had a sign, and within three weeks, she was gone.
“It was hard. None of us knew how sick she was. That was the other issue. And it wasn’t a normal season, anyway. We were relegated to stay on the same pair [of lanes] every week. We had virtual matches. So there wasn’t any normalcy.
“But she was a motivator, too, you know? She’d been with all of these girls. Like Shane’, I run a program on Saturday, and she’s been with me since she was 5 years old.”
“Honestly, she [Daffner] was strict,” Ashley Wolf said. “But she did it for the better. It was to help us learn and grow as we went along.”
“It was really sad when she passed,” Terry said. “It was really fast and unexpected. But it was good that we had that last season when we won sectionals with her. And for us to be doing this well, without her, I think she’d be very proud of us.”
Sager said she’s working with the high school to establish a scholarship in Daffner’s name to benefit a Schenectady girl athlete, as Daffner had coached a variety of sports. In the meantime, the Patriots shook off the loss to Colonie last week to cruise past Saratoga Springs on Wednesday and improve to 11-1.
The team has two sets of sisters — the Beehms and Wolfs — but one sisterhood.
There’s no way to predict how the season will end, but it’s a sure thing they’ll be holding the tight line of that friendship, like a precise spare shot.
“I think we’ve got the potential, absolutely, to repeat. But you never know,” Sager said.
“We’re small, but mighty.”