DES MOINES – To say the Fort Dodge bowling team took an unconventional path to the state tournament would be an understatement.

The defending Class 2A state boys champions willed their way into the state field and will get their shot at a title repeat today at Plaza Lanes in Des Moines.

Action begins at 10 a.m.

The Dodgers had some bowlers miss some time in the early going and struggled to find a cohesive unit on the lanes.

“We had some boys out with eligibly issues and they had to wait 30 days,” said Fort Dodge head coach Don Ervin. “Every team is different every year and we just had to play with the hand we were dealt.”

After Christmas Break the pieces started to return, but the Dodgers still lacked that unity that brought them the state championship last year.

The Dodgers fought through a rough regular season, earning one win in 10 tries, but when districts came around, the ball rolled their way.

Fort Dodge clinched a return trip to the state tournament with a district championship out of nowhere that stunned fans and even their coach.

“I was speechless,” Ervin said. “I don’t know how they did it. Last week at districts, they just gelled together. We just came together and could do know wrong.

“It was a different team. I just can’t put into words what it means the way these boys put everything aside and just went out and competed. When districts came around, they were serious about making the tournament – it was just like a switch was turned on.”

Junior Seth Hanson and senior Justus McNeil have been the glue that has kept the team together.

“Seth and Justus have been here since the beginning of the season,” Ervin said. “They have been on our lanes helping, on the junior varsity lanes helping, these two have just been about this team.

“When everyone came back, it slowly started meshing and came together at the right time.”

With the state berth in tow and his team finally on the same page, Ervin is pleased with the way the program is being established.

“When the guys found out that Drew Hanson and Chase Messerly would be at state, they were just ecstatic,” Ervin said. “These guys have built a comradery that I haven’t seen before.”

At the district meet, Fort Dodge shot a 2,669, which is the seventh best score of the seven qualifying teams.

Hanson shot a 454 with games of 250 and 204, which was sixth best in the state.

Joining Hanson and McNeil on the state tournament squad are senior Austin Graves, junior Tristan Ernst, sophomore Ethan Graves and freshman Tristan Ernst.

Ervin and the Dodgers are elated about making the field, but their not about to settle for just being a state qualifier.

“I think we may have a little bit of an advantage just because everyone was surprised what we did to get here and nobody knows how good we are,” Ervin said. “I think we have an outside shot of winning it.

“We were like a wreck car that went into the shop. We got put back together and we’re a still a good team.”

As the season rolled on Ervin was expecting the girls would be a shoe-in for a state berth, but the Dodger girls struggled at the district meet and weren’t able to advance.

Senior Christina Hemann and junior Megan Patrick will make an appearance for the girls.

Hemann qualified as the 10th individual and Patrick was 11th, as both shot 393 totals.

“Nicole (Dodger assistant girls coach) was down big time after not qualifying for state,” Ervin said. “But she called me and said ‘We didn’t make it as a team but we had two girls qualify and they deserved it. They worked hard to get there and they’re going to get the reward.”