By RICK PETERSON
Coaches in all sports talk about what a thrill it is to be able to build a program from the ground up.
Ottawa University bowling coach Geoff Poston has had that rare opportunity not once but twice and wouldn't trade the experience.
Poston launched Topeka West's program in 2006 in the infancy of high school bowling in Kansas and then got the same chance in the 2017-18 season at Ottawa, when the school instituted college bowling.
With Ottawa set to open its fifth season next week in Wichita, Poston, who coached state championship boys and girls teams at Seaman after his stint at West, said that coaching the Braves has been everything he thought it could be.
"Being able to start it from scratch was huge and in college you get to pick the kids that you want, which is a lot of different from high school obviously, so we've been able to build the team with good quality kids and we've gotten better each year,'' Poston said before Wednesday's practice.
Poston's program got a huge boost two years ago when Fusion Alley, a 12-lane bowling center, opened in Ottawa and Poston said the community as a whole has embraced the Braves.
"I think the University having a team definitely generated a ton of interest around town and being able to have this facility has been great,'' he said. "We were going to Lawrence for two years, so this has really helped.''
Poston, a Topeka West graduate, recruits nationally and on occasion internationally, but always makes sure he takes care of his backyard in Kansas first.
"I always look at trying to get kids from Kansas because there's good bowlers in Kansas, but then you venture out to where the talent is,'' said Poston, a member of the Topeka and state bowling hall of fames. "That's taken us to a young lady outside of Toronto, kids from Washington, Florida, a little bit of everywhere.''
Ottawa's current 30-person roster includes bowlers from 10 different states as well as Canada, with 15 hailing from Kansas.
One of the Braves' stars is senior Jared Freed, a former Topeka West standout who has helped Poston put OU bowling on the map, earning NAIA All-America honors last season as a junior.
Freed committed to Ottawa during the school's inaugural season and has been part of the Braves' continued growth.
"It's probably the best decision I could have made,'' Freed said. "I didn't even go visit anywhere else. I'd known Geoff for awhile, so I said, "I'm coming here. I'll help start the program, I'll lead the program.' ''
Freed is proud of how far the program has come in just a few years.
"The first year of the program they probably only had six or seven guys maybe but now we've gone to a full roster so this program is growing every single year and I love everything about this program,'' Freed said.
Poston feels like the sky is the limit for the Braves moving forward.
"Both teams made it to the NAIA national championships last year and we're going to be good this year,'' Poston said. "We have a really good recruiting class coming in next year, so we're going to be good again.''