Queen pin: South Brunswick High School senior is leader of the lanes

Bad luck day brings good fortune as Viking senior wins state crown.

By: James McKeever
   If Lauren Sohmer was superstitious at all, you can forget about it now.
   Last Friday – Friday, Feb. 13 to be exact – Sohmer enjoyed one of the greatest days of her young life and gave South Brunswick High one of the great moments in its athletic history.
   The SBHS senior came to Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick with her teammates to compete in the NJSIAA state bowling finals. She left the place as the 2004 state girls champion.
   It took nine games of bowling in one day, but when all was said and done, Sohmer defeated Woodbridge’s Vicki Spratford head-to-head in the final round of the stepladder finals to win the individual state title.
   "I guess Friday the 13th isn’t so bad after all," said Sohmer.
   It was a pretty good day for South Brunswick’s team as well. The Vikings, making their first appearance in the finals, turned in a fourth-place finish among the 15 girls teams that earned the right to compete for the title. Brick Township finished first.
   "It was an exciting day, an incredible day," said South Brunswick girls coach Tara Burniston. "I knew Lauren had the ability to qualify for the stepladders finals. But we didn’t think it would come down to this."
   In the Central Jersey sectionals on Jan. 31, the Vikings qualified for the state finals as a team while Sohmer and freshman Suzanne Bleacher qualified for the individual tournament along with 45 other bowlers.
   After bowling three games and knocking down 661 pins in the team competition, Sohmer’s score was in the top 40 percent among individual bowlers, which sent her and 18 other girls onto the next round.
   Sohmer then rolled a 608 set and her total for six games (1269) put her in third place. The top five moved on to the stepladder finals.
   Sohmer waited for the Four vs. Five winner, which was Howell’s Liz Carragher, and defeated her 226-203. Then she beat No. 2 Karen Grygiel of Brick 212-166. Awaiting Sohmer at No. 1 was a well rested Spratford. Sohmer was about to bowl her ninth game of the day, while Spratford was embarking on her seventh game.
   "I wasn’t really thinking about winning then, I just wanted to do my best," Sohmer said. "When I first reached the stepladder finals I was a little tired. I was beginning to drop the ball and wasn’t following through. My coach just reminded my about the technical stuff and made adjustments in my mechanics. If she wasn’t there I couldn’t have won it."
   Sohmer had faced Spratford before. Sohmer defeated her in December en route to winning the Middlesex County Junior Masters Youth American Bowling Alliance tournament. And South Brunswick bowled Woodbridge head to head three times this season.
   "Vicki Spratford is an amazing bowler," said Burniston. "It was nice to know that the worst-case scenario for Lauren was to finish second in the state. There’s no shame in that, especially going against Spratford. But Lauren just took it frame by frame. I could see she was tired and she was feeling a little pressure. We just tried to keep her focus on one frame at a time."
   "I knew I beat her once before but I didn’t know if I could do it again," Sohmer said. "But through the fourth or fifth frame we were close to tied. That’s when I realized I was staying with her."
   In her nine games Sohmer only left two frames open and averaged 215, 16 pins above her regular-season average. She bowled a clean game against Spratford and won 238-183. The match was tied at 60 through three frames. Sohmer then broke off a string of three strikes. She spared the seventh and fired strikes on three of her next four attempts to seal the victory, and the state title.
   "I knew it would be amazing if I could win, but it wasn’t like it was a must thing," Sohmer said. "Second in the state is nothing to cry about. Vicki just wasn’t carrying the pins as well as I was that game. My ball hit the pocket better. I was just on a roll all day."
   The South Brunswick team, which arrived at the lanes at 9:30 a.m., left to go home at 5:45 p.m. Sohmer stayed behind at Brunswick Zone Carolier.
   You see, every Friday night Sohmer and Bishop Ahr’s Tiffany Newbury are partners in the Cohen Junior Doubles League at Brunswick Zone Carolier. They were scheduled to start at 6:30.
   So after doing media interviews, getting congratulated by a ton of people and finally getting a bite to eat, believe it or not Sohmer bowled three more games. She averaged 203 for her 10th, 11th and 12th games of the day.
   She left the lanes at 11:30 p.m. – 14 hours after her arrival. Maybe she wanted this day to last forever.
   "I bowl with my friends every Friday night and I figured three more games wouldn’t hurt," she said. "When I got home that night I fell into my bed and thought to myself, "Wow, I’m a state champion.’ Then I got a good night sleep."
   With pleasant dreams after a wonderful Friday the 13th.