BATTLE CREEK – Macomb Dakota’s Division 1 championship defense got off to a slow start Friday at M-66 Bowl.
So slow, that it looked like the Cougars might not survive the qualifying round.
But once they found their groove, the favorites began to fall.
Dakota, ranked No. 5 at the end of the regular season, qualified fifth of eight teams to move on to match play. The Cougars then topped No. 7 ranked Detroit Catholic Central and top-ranked Davison before beating unranked Canton in the championship match 1,305-1,105.
“It’s unbelievable. I never expected it. I can event describe it,” Dakota senior Nick Mikaelian said. “We started out bad, but we figured out where to play the lanes. Everybody just moved together, and it gave us the best chance.”
Mikaelian, also a member of the 2011 champion team, bowled a 206 in Friday’s Final. Teammates Mike Jachcinski and Justin Taylor teamed to roll a 216.
It was the third straight season Dakota advanced to the championship match. The Cougars beat Westland John Glenn last season, but finished runner-up to Detroit Catholic Central in 2010.
Division 2 at Century Lanes
WATERFORD – This was not supposed to be Mason’s season to win an MHSAA championship.
The Bulldogs traditionally are strong – and had made the Finals four years running heading into this winter.
But they had graduated five from last season’s semifinalist team. And they entered the postseason unranked in the state Division 2 poll.
Mason didn’t bowl like a team with four starters competing their first MHSAA Final. Despite qualifying just seventh for match play, the Bulldogs cruised through a Quarterfinal win, won their Semifinal by just 46 pins, and then squeaked past No. 8 Bay City John Glenn 1,216-1,213 in the championship match.
“Being a senior, this state title means a great deal to me,” Mason’s David Smithern said. “For four years, my team made it to the state finals and could never quite prove just how good of a team we were. This year was different. We came and threw every shot like the state title depended on it, and ended up victorious.”
Smithern rolled a 189 in the Final to lead Mason, with teammate Nick Carl adding a 185. Nathan Moszyk rolled a 182 for John Glenn, and Alex Ouillette had a 181.
The teams split the Baker games, and the final result remained in doubt until the end.
“I didn’t know we’d won until I saw the score sheet,” Mason coach Jim Valentine said.
“This was won with four new starting bowlers. We graduated five seniors last year. That group made states every year. This group won it all. I’m very proud of them.”
Division 3 at Airport Lanes
JACKSON – Fremont could feel its run at an MHSAA championship about to end early as it began the final game of qualifying Friday.
Then something clicked. And just in time.
Fremont rolled a 934 in the final block of qualifying to move from nearly missing the cut to fifth heading into match play. From there, the Packers seemed to get only stronger in winning their three matches by an average of 84 pins – including a 1,297-1,241 victory over Corunna in the Final.
"Today we didn't start off too well. But in the last game of the qualifiers we realized that we had to pick it up and bowl,” Fremont junior Ethan Brummel said. “After we bowled that final game, we were shocked that we were fifth seed. We had been eighth place and on the edge of the cut.
“The (Semifinal) round went well, and we were amazed that we beat the first seed team. After that, we really didn't care if we placed first or second, but we were ecstatic that we won. It was a great way to end the season."
Mike Margol bowled a 214 to lead Fremont, followed by Brummel’s 195. Austin Mowinski had a 205 for Corunna.
Fremont previously finished Division 2 runner-up in 2006.
Division 4 at Sunnybrook Lanes
STERLING HEIGHTS – Rogers City left no question which team was the best in Division 4 on Friday – and arguably the best at any MHSAA Final.
The Hurons finished first in qualifying by 119 pins. They won their Quarterfinal by 149 and eliminated No. 1-ranked Sandusky in the Semifinal with an 80-pin victory. Rogers City then finished the day off with a 1,462-1,351 win over Jonesville in the Final.
All five Rogers City bowlers rolled at least 182, led by Zach Hazel with a 258, Ken Wirgan with a 221 and Justin Hazel with a 200.
Jonesville also had three roll more than 200 in the Final: Reed Baker with a 231, Wyatt Tolbert with a 212 and Trevor Haas with a 206.
Rogers City’s bowling team is on a roll. And the Hurons haven’t even had their first competition of the season.
Rogers City has a decorated past, including winning the first state bowling championship in 1999, organized by the Bowling Center Association of Michigan, against a field including schools of all sizes and five years before the addition of MHSAA Finals in the sport. The boys team also was the Division 4 team runner-up at the first Class C-D Finals hosted by the MHSAA in 2004.
The Hurons hope to return to those glory days by bringing back experienced bowlers on both the boys and girls teams. Rogers City last qualified teams for the Finals in 2020 – when both the boys and girls advanced – and both teams hope to make a run at the Northern Michigan Conference title and land a spot at this season’s Finals in March.
The boys did find success last year — with just four bowlers — placing ahead of a handful of teams at its Regional. This year, Rogers City has a full boys team, and more, including junior Gavin Rhode, who qualified for the Singles Finals last year. The Hurons also are returning senior Conner Muller and sophomore Gabe Mina; Muller narrowly missed qualifying for the Finals last winter. And they are excited to see how first-year bowlers Blaise Szatkowski, Cooper Heinzel, George Karsten, Jacob Wickersham and Ryan Morgan perform.
The girls are returning seniors Arianna Anderson and Sophia Mina and sophomore Olivia Reyes. First-year bowlers Ruby Svay – an exchange student – and freshman Brooke Crawford compose the rest of the squad.
Both the boys and the girls have added strong bowlers with incoming freshmen, including Wickersham, a 180-average bowler.
“With a small school you kind of know what is coming along,” long-time coach Brian Bannasch said. “Even with our limited numbers last year, we were still competitive.”
The Hurons will open their season Jan. 6. As has been the case for years, matches will take place on Saturdays for optimal lane availability.
“After the success previous to COVID, the last couple years have really been a letdown just not having enough bodies,” Bannasch acknowledged. “We still sent kids to the state finals individually, but team-wise were just lacking numbers with a small school that has under 175 in the high school.
“When you lose any number of kids, it is tough to replace them,” he continued. “We are really excited to have numbers this year.”
The bowling program has been battling lower overall school enrollment and competing with basketball and wrestling teams for roster numbers.
Long hours in the alley for practice, traveling for matches and competing are paying off for the Hurons. Those long hours are the same for the coaches, forcing absence from the family business.
But it’s being done with a focus on a road trip to the Division 4 Finals in March, at Northway Lanes in Muskegon.
The boys and girls Regionals, hosted by Traverse City Christian, will be held at Lucky Jacks in Traverse City.
“We definitely have individuals expecting to qualify as individuals on the boys side,” Bannasch said. “We have three girls that have bowled before and fewer teams in each Regional.
“We had a pretty powerful Regional,” he continued. “Maybe with fewer teams, it could work to our advantage.”
Bannasch, whose family owns the local bowling alley Nautical Lanes, has been the boys and girls bowling coach from the beginning at Rogers City. The school started with a club team prior to making it a varsity sport.
Bannasch has seen a lot of talented bowlers develop through his youth programs and then vie for championships in high school. The Hurons often have had more than a dozen bowlers on the boys team.
Bannasch points to every bowler in Rogers City history competing in at least one varsity match every year as key to the team’s historical success. His unique philosophy of participation often has paid dividends.
“One of the things that has helped us be successful is that I have a little different philosophy than most coaches,” Bannasch noted. “We’ve had years where we’ve had 12 or 14 boys and 10 girls.
“We had JV matches, but we never consider it JV – they were all part of the varsity bowling team,” he continued. “In the next year, they have experienced that and know what the varsity match is all about.”
Bannasch also has watched other conference schools win or contend for Finals titles, something he points to with pride.
Bannasch spotlighted Cheboygan’s boys having won the Division 2 title in 2009 and Boyne City’s boys — as a newer program — finishing Division 3 runners-up in 2020 and 2021. Cheboygan’s girls finished Division 3 runners-up in 2022.
“Our success has been great, but I take just as much pride in the success of our conference,” Bannasch said. “We’re such a close-knit conference, it is great to see anybody up here be successful at it.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Rogers City’s bowling teams have high aspirations this winter with their first competitions coming up next month. (Middle) Gavin Rhode, a Finals qualifier last season, practices recently. (Below) Arianna Anderson, left, and Sophia Mina are seniors on the girls team. (Photos by Richard Lamb/Presque Isle Newspapers.)