CHS sophomore lays down championship performance at Division II tournament

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Carrollton sophomore Kaylee Russell shows the form that earned her the Division II individual state championship March 2 in Columbus.

By Carol McIntire


Carrollton sophomore Kaylee Russell admits with hesitation bowling is not her favorite sport. In fact, the 16-year-old says it ranks third behind golf and throwing the shot and discus on the Warrior track team. 

By watching the relatively newcomer to the bowling world perform at the Division II State Bowling Championships March 2 at H.P. Lanes in Columbus, one would have thought she was born with a bowling ball in her hand.

The form and grace in which she threw the ball down the lane and the confidence that grew with each frame left little doubt her name would be called among the list of All-Ohioans as the top individual awards were presented. 

Even Kaylee admits she was not prepared for what happened next.

“I knew I snuck up above some of the top bowlers here,” she said referring her scores of 231, 241 and 193 in the individual games. “As soon as I heard them announce fourth place, I knew I was in the top two. When they announced my name as the winner, I was speechless.

“My mind was just blank walking out there (to accept the award). All I could hear was everyone screaming my name. I was trying to wipe off the tears. Inside I was bursting with happiness.” 

Her series score of 665 places her in a tie for the 10th highest score in tournament history and places her name on the champions list with another Carrollton bowler, Cailyn Bright, who won the tournament in 2021. Bright rolled games of 239, 256 and 200 for a 695 series.

Kaylee talked about the win after her team advanced to the championship round (top eight teams).

“I had a goal to shoot a 200 game today,” she said. “And then when I reached that in the first game, it wasn’t enough. As soon as I got that first one, I wanted to shoot all 200s. One wasn’t enough. My expectation was to shoot my line and maybe get some good games…or maybe not. I knew there were some girls out there with a lot more experience than I have. 

After the first game of 231, I was kind of shocked. I have been rolling the ball good and have been playing my line. I just wanted to keep doing it. I didn’t want to stop.” 

It’s easy to understand the foundation for her bowling success. She is coached by her mother, Wendy Russell, and her grandfather, Joe Phillis, both longtime successful bowlers. 

Wendy, who also spent a lot of time wiping tears of joy from her eyes and called the events of the day, “surreal,” recapped Kaylee’s early days.

“She didn’t bowl a lot through the junior league like a lot of other kids,” her head coach noted. “She really picked it up about two years ago.”

Responding to a question about how it feels to coach her daughter, Wendy laughed as she said, “Unfortunately for her, I can say things to her I can’t say to the other girls. She picked up bowling when she was a freshman. The family joke is she told us she wanted to be a tri athlete and said she thought she was going to pick up bowling as her third sport. My reply was, “Thanks for picking the one we coach as your third sport. We appreciate that.” 

Looking back over the last couple years, Wendy said she’s watched her daughter grow in the sport. 

“She has grown a lot the last two years,” Wendy related. “Bowling is about ball speed and keeping it slower. She did that today. I couldn’t go back and ask her to throw any better than she did today. A lot of bowling is form and ball speed – keep it under control. She did that today.”

When asked if he’d ever, in his wildest dreams, think he’d coach his granddaughter to a state championship, tears welled up in Joe’s eyes.

“Well…no, but with talent out there on our team, I knew anything was possible.  We’ve had five girls who were the top bowlers for us more than one time this year, so I knew we had the talent,” the assistant Carrollton coach said. “But I also knew, with them being girls, we had to keep them from getting inside their own heads. I told them before we started, today, just relax and have fun, because you don’t know if you will ever be back. Enjoy it, don’t get upset with yourself. If you have a bad shot, forget it, and move on to the next one. Man did she do that!”

Kaylee gave credit to her coaches and teammates for the win.

“Mom and I have the same mindset for we’ve butted heads a couple times,” she said with a laugh. “But I couldn’t have made it anywhere without them.”

“We weren’t supposed to be here,” Kaylee said of the team. “We were the underdogs. We weren’t supposed to make it out of districts. From that to being here is amazing. This is an experience that will never be forgotten for us. This group of girls; we’ve been so close this entire year. I know that bond will never go away.”

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