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(Courtesy Photo)

The Artesia High School Bulldog bowling team has begun its quest to defend back-to-back New Mexico High School Bowling Association Class 5A State Championships. And if the first two tournaments of this season are any indication of what’s to come, the Bulldogs are on track to challenge that lofty goal.

This year’s Artesia bowling team is made up of 17 returning members, including all five bowlers on an Advanced team that captured last season’s state title and 12 new members for a total squad of 29. Coach Ken Clayton also returns for the 12th season of Bulldog bowling and is again assisted by Tim and Holly Harvey.

“I am especially pleased with the mix of experience and new bowlers on this year’s team,” said Clayton. “The young bowlers get to practice every day with some of the best bowlers in the state, who are great example of what practice and hard work will get you.”

The Bulldogs opened the season in Rio Rancho with a great showing that saw an Advanced team just coming off football season place third behind 6A powerhouses Cleveland and Rio Rancho. Leading the Artesia No. 1 team were freshman Justin Weddige with games of 195/173 and a 368 two-game series, Ethan Velo (171/173), Will Davis (198), and Zach Ingram with a 206 game.

The Artesia No. 2 team placed third in the 20-team Intermediate division, with sophomore Aaron Davis pacing the field with games of 196 and 180 and a 376 series, followed by Xavier Ybarra (184/176), Miguel Gallegos (156), Quinn Tilton (144/147) and Caden Brown (144).

Artesia No. 4 finished sixth out of 19, led by Mady Pollard’s 191 game, as well as Kamryn Kelsey (165/150), Wallace Smedley (136/135) and Parker Johnson (136/135).

The Rookie division saw six weeks of practice and learning the game pay off, with the AHS bowlers capturing first and second Place in the 20-team field.

Artesia No. 3 won the tournament, led by Pecos Billips rolling a 171 game, Tyler Jeter (169), Lillynn Lewis (162/146), Caeden Pearson (139) and Kaitlyn Chesser (122). Runner-up Artesia No. 5 had Logan McNeely with a 198 game and Joah James with a 150.

With the opening tournament experience under their belt, the Bulldog bowlers traveled to Bernalillo to complete at the Santa Ana Lanes.

Having an extra week of practice allowed the Advanced team to step up their scoring while marking another third-place finish. Will Davis posted games of 172 and a season high 255 for a 427 series. Coy Moorhead opened his season with a nice 233 game, Weddige added games of 185/176, and Velo bowled a 188 and Ingram a 170.

Artesia No. 2 finished in second in the 18-team Intermediate division and was led by Aaron Davis with games of 225 and 218 for a team high 443 series. Other Artesia No. 2 bowlers were Alex Harmon (220/178), Kelsey (165), Gallegos (161) and Tilton (148). Also scoring well in the Intermediate division were Brown with a 231 game, Jeter (177), and Ybarra (177). Novice and Rookie division scoring at Santa Ana included Kaden Sallee (182/153), Chesser (182), TJ Thalman (143), RJ Lewis (165/143) and Ian Dodge (131).

“I am very impressed with the progress of our team,” Clayton said. “Our team average is higher after two weeks than it has ever been, which is a combination of the returning bowlers continuing to be strong and the new bowlers exceeding even my expectations, which tend to be a little high.”