Addressing his team prior to the start of the season, Greenwich bowling coach Wayne Gioffre knew he had athletes who competed in various sports at the school and asked how many of them had won state championships at anything other than bowling.

No hands were raised.

Gioffre's message was clear to the assembled bowlers. Winning state championships is hard work and defending a state title might be even tougher with a bull's-eye suddenly affixed to your back.

It is a new but welcome problem for the Greenwich bowling team, which sits in first place at 4-0 this season after winning the state title last season as the No. 1 ranked team.

Defending the title is the top priority for this year's team.

"It means a lot to me since I am a senior. It will be my last chance to do it again," co-captain Packy Hanrahan said. "I know not a lot of sports have won championships, so, it is pretty special."

Hanrahan was the top bowler on last year's team and leads this year's version with a 190 average.

He is joined on the varsity "A" by fellow co-captain, senior Christian DiRusso (180), senior Ricky Okazaki (170), junior Dominic Maniscalco (170) and senior Joe Concepcion (185).

The team holds practice every Monday at Rip Van Winkle Lanes in Norwalk and competes in matches every Tuesday at Nutmeg Lanes in Fairfield, but many of the varsity "A" bowlers have committed to playing several times a week, either practicing or competing in evening leagues to stay sharp.

"A lot of guys on the `A' team have leagues outside of school," DiRusso said. "I know Packy is in a league and I bowl at least two times a week outside of practice. We won last year and have four returning guys this year, so we are looking to win again."

Gioffre feels the bowlers took his message to heart and take nothing for granted when it comes to trying to win another title.

"They know how tough it is," Gioffre said. "I have been coaching football for 22 years and I was fortunate enough to win three of them, but three in 22 years is rare. Winning the state championship is a very special thing and all the stars have to line up for it to happen."

Besides the stars aligning, Gioffre is confident that his team puts in the necessary work to accomplish their goals.

"They are up here any free minute they have practicing on their own," Gioffre said. "I don't have to push them to come up here, they come all the time and they want to win it all again."

At a recent practice everyone seemed to be having a good time, but Hanrahan said the bowlers understand the balance between fun and business.

"Usually in practice we try to have a lot of fun, but we also try to keep it serious and in the games it gets a lot more serious," Hanrahan said.

"The `A' team usually bowls last, so the younger guys can see us compete and usually they just want to get that good. They see us setting good example and then they want to try and get up there."

The team has matches on Tuesday over the next two months until the states in the second week of March.; 203-625-4458;