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Jenkins, Lockey lead Van Buren to state bowling meet

George "Clay" Mitchell
Press Argus-Courier

Van Buren heads to Conway on Feb. 8 in search of its second consecutive boys bowling state title. 

The Pointers won the Class 6A championship last season at Bowling World in Fort Smith. The team returns most of its bowlers from last season including Asher Altman, Omar Franco, Caleb Jenkins, Jake Pullan, and Matthew Hanson. Steven Dye, who graduated last year, was the other member of the state championship team.

Franco earned gold-medalist honors last season with his 664 series. Both Jenkins and Dye picked up bronze medalist honors for their 630 series.

"No doubt there are a lot of expectations," bowling coach Kevin Ross said. "We were fortunate to win it last year, to have five of the six guys back, and dropping down a classification... I don't know if that will have an impact because we really don't know what we're facing in Class 5A."

Van Buren's Caleb Jenkins

Van Buren has faced Siloam Springs, Alma, Russellville, and Greenwood this season and Ross said that Van Buren's scores are comparable to others in the classification.

The format this season will be different as the state meet will comprise of two days at Conway Family Bowl. Van Buren will compete on Monday, Feb. 8, and the event concludes on the following day. 

The team will have to wait by computers and mobile devices to see where they fall after the second day of events to see if they qualify to state.

"It'll be different. I would have liked to have had us there against the other teams, so we can see what they're doing and use that to push us," said Ross. "But with COVID, we have to make adjustments. I hope these guys don't too loose, but these guys have been here before so I think they know how to push themselves."

Jenkins has been a three-year starter for the Van Buren bowling team and part of the "backbone of the team." He joined the team as a freshman and got his first start as a sophomore.

"There was a guy in my bowling league who was always talking about high school bowling tournaments and Van Buren versus Southside at the time," Jenkins said. "It really interested me and I thought it would be to be involved in something to represent your school and to do something you love to do."

Jenkins played basketball until the eighth grade and was in band for a while, but nothing stuck with him like bowling.

"There's something different each time. There are days that you're doing well and days that you're not," Jenkins said. "And there's only so many adjustments you can make to impact your play. It's just really interesting to see how people make those adjustments." 

In the eight matches this season, Jenkins had won medalists in six matches while Van Buren also won six. In one match, where he didn't win, Franco picked up the high-point award.

"We put pressure on ourselves to do better. If one of is down, it sometimes brings the whole team down with them, so we make sure that we're being supportive of each other and bring them back up," Jenkins said. "As soon as we see someone else bowling (well), we can pick that up and start to think that we got something going. Individually, we can be upset with our low score or happy with a high one, but what is happening is that we're all pulling together to get best team score."

Miranda Lockey, who only started bowling competitively four years ago, is also a four-year starter for the Lady Pointers and "has grown up in this alley."

Van Buren's Miranda Lockey

Her sister, Sabrina Lockey, bowled for Van Buren and Miranda grew into the sport.

"It was difficult for me when I first started because there's a lot more to bowling than I had thought," said Lockey, who never played in a competitive sport before bowling.

At the state meet, Lockey is looking to do better than she has in the previous years. The Lady Pointers have been bowling with just five players (six is allowed on the team). While the team has won just two matches this season, Lockey has finished second in scoring in five of the eight matches and earned medalist honors against Russellville and Greenwood, two of the teams they'll see at the conference meet.

"No matter the final score, we're going to help and support each other," Lockey said. "It was the teamwork and how we support each other's interests. I like how we try to help each other to reach a more positive outcome."