Welcome Penguins into the club of state champions

By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports

The  Catholic school for girls that occupies acreage next to Archbishop Shaw has claimed its first distinction since fielding athletic teams when it opened in 2007.

The Academy of Our Lady is a state champion and can take its place among Louisiana high schools who share that title.

In its 11th year as a consolidation of the former Archbishop Blenk and Immaculata schools, AOL won the state bowling championship  by defeating No. 2 seed East Ascension, 19-8, on April 5 at Baton Rouge’s All-Star Lanes.

It’s the first piece of hardware the school has ever won in varsity competition. The ice (pardon the expression) has finally been broken for the Penguins.

Brother Martin claimed its third boys’ title in four years and fifth since 2011.

Led by Cody Schaffer, Drew Gardner and Hunter Dunn, the Crusaders defeated Catholic High, 21-6.

Winning state championships is nothing new to the Crusaders. Their trophy case is crowded with championship trophies in a number of sports.

But for AOL, this season was like no other.

Led by its star roller, Erin Burkart, AOL broke open a competitive championship match by scoring 10 of the final 11 points to defeat East Ascension in a runaway.

And to make the event doubly satisfying, Burkart returned to the lanes a day later to upset top qualifier Kelsi Stegall of H.L. Bourgeois to win the individual girls’ top bowler honors.

The double triumph is a testimony to the job the school’s bowling mentor Robert Chauvin has done to prepare his team.

Chauvin, who teaches social studies and American history at AOL, has been the team’s varsity coach since 2007, when the school doors opened for the first time. 

Enduring growing pains (in practically all sports) during the school’s first seven years, AOL’s bowlers had made the trip to the state tournament just twice – in 2011, when they were eliminated in the first round, and again in 2013, when they fell in the quarterfinal round.

Small but elite brackets

Now, bowling is not considered one of the marquee sports in the big picture of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, unless you are a bowler or bowling enthusiast.

The girls’ team bracket had just 17 teams, which included 2017 champion St. Scholastica. It was SSA that eliminated AOL in that quarterfinal round.

But the Penguins took no one by surprise. They swept rather easily through their district, which included Cabrini, Archbishop Chapelle, Mount Carmel, Holy Rosary, Chalmette and Kenner Discovery School.

A 13-0 record entering the tournament was bolstered by Burkart (180-pin average), Danielle Poussard (174), Lauren Michel (162), Lauryn Hartsell (161), Linzie Bladsacker (158) and Shelby Elwin (146).

Burkart, whose average placed her 10th entering the individual matches, was impressive in defeating Stegall, the state’s top bowler, who carried a 203 average into the shoot-off, by 19 pins. 

She was chosen by a small college in Maryland, Mount St. Mary’s, to anchor its initial team by giving her a partial scholarship.

The team also featured a young lady with an unusual, two-handed delivery.

As a young child, Lauryn Hartsell, suffered two dislocated shoulders while being swung around by her wrists. 

Her right shoulder was dislocated a second time while Hartsell was pitching a softball.

Without using any of the three holes in her bowling ball, Hartsell holds the ball off to her right side, and using the proper approach steps, shuffles the ball off her right hip toward the pins.

That technique has given the second-year varsity team member the fourth-best average on the team.

This team may signal a new era in AOL athletics.

The Penguins’ first title is a true state championship, not tarnished by separate playoffs for public and non-public schools.

To that I say, “Go, girls!”

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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