By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The boys and girls sides of this weekend’s MHSAA Bowling Finals could follow distinctly different storylines with team competition set to begin Friday.
Regulars like Davison, Tecumseh, Vandercook Lake and Sandusky are among favorites again in the girls competition. The boys tournaments appear much more wide open with a number of unranked teams looking good to make runs at titles.
All Team Finals are Friday, and Singles Finals are Saturday. Click for the full list of girls qualifiers and boys qualifiers, and come back to Second Half all weekend for coverage from all four Finals sites.
Girls Division 1
Team: Davison, the champion the last two seasons and top-ranked this winter, rolled last weekend’s highest Division 1 Regional score of 4,004 – 243 pins better than the next highest contender. Back from last season’s championship team are Singles Finals qualifiers Kailee Tubbs and Brooklyn Greene, but Davison also is bolstered by Regional champ and freshman Taylor Davis, another freshman qualifier in Kalee Johnson and one more qualifier in junior Taylor Brown. Flint Carman-Ainsworth and Sterling Heights Stevenson are ranked Nos. 4 and 3, respectively, in the latest coaches poll, and both cleared 3,700 pins at their Regionals, while No. 2 Macomb Dakota also qualified.
Singles: Dakota senior Nicole Mikaelian ascended from the 16th spot in qualifying at last season’s Final to finish individual runner-up, and she’ll be back among the contenders. Freshman Davis and Canton’s Meghan Macunovich both won Regionals and the latter’s 1,282 the highest individual score in Division 1. Walled Lake Central senior Ashley Bickel and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North sophomore Samantha Gainor joined those two among others in breaking 1,200 to win Regional titles.
Boys Division 1
Team: Top-ranked and reigning champion Salem did not qualify for the Finals, opening up this field considerably. No. 2 Macomb Dakota, the champion in both 2011 and 2012, posted last weekend’s top Regional score regardless of division, 4,341. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley with 4,273 and Sterling Heights Stevenson with 4,272 had the next highest Regional scores in the state – finishing second and third, respectively, behind Dakota at that tournament.
Singles: Last season Quarterfinalists Jack Herndel of Howell and Jacob Kersten of Clarkston are the only ones of that top eight who qualified again this season, Herndel as a Regional champ. Sterling Heights Stevenson junior Anthony Taormina put up the division’s highest score of 1,404, with Flint Carman-Ainsworth senior Jordon Nunn next at 1,375. Nunn made the Finals match play last season.
Girls Division 2
Team: Top-ranked Tecumseh is looking to regain the title after winning three straight from 2008-10. Its score of 4,017 was the best at any Regional, regardless of division, and four seniors qualified for the Singles Final as well with Lauren McKowen’s 1,320 the highest Regional individual score in the state. Flint Kearsley, the 2012 champion, posted last week’s second-highest Regional score of 3,664 and qualified five individuals – all seniors or juniors – for the Singles tournament.
Singles: Reigning champion Jordan Richard, another of the Tecumseh seniors, finished runner-up to her teammate McKowen at the Regional. Both made the individual Semifinals in 2013, as did Kearsley junior Kayla Emmendorfer, who also will return. Only three of the top 14 match play qualifiers last season were seniors, and 10 of those 11 who were not are qualified to bowl this weekend.
Boys Division 2
Team: Reigning champion Sturgis and top-ranked Marysville both won their Regionals last weekend, with Taylor Kennedy – which just missed the Finals Quarterfinals last season – putting up the division’s top Regional score of 4,037. No. 4 Flint Kearsley should be back in the mix after also winning its Regional, but unranked Bay City John Glenn is the most intriguing after winning its Regional with a 3,803 and then qualifying three seniors for the individual tournament.
Singles: John Glenn senior Alex Ouellette helped key that team effort and won the singles Regional title, and he might be the favorite after finishing Finals runner-up in 2013. Only two others in Division 2 posted higher Regional scores – Warren Fitzgerald senior Alec Nunn threw a 1,445 and looks tough after making match play last season, while Dearborn Heights Annapolis senior Leon Hutchcraft rolled a 1,348 to win his Regional.
Girls Division 3
Team: No. 4-ranked Richmond posted the division’s highest Regional score of 3,667 to win a tournament that also included top-ranked Croswell-Lexington, which did qualify as a third-place finisher. Reigning champion Battle Creek Pennfield also qualified as a Regional champion, and unranked Standish-Sterling is an intriguing contender after joining Richmond as the only Division 3 teams to break 3,600 last weekend.
Singles: Alma senior Hannah Chase made the Quarterfinals last season and looks poised to finish an outstanding career with one last run after posting the division’s’ highest Regional score of 1,242. Caro junior Adreanna Jackson and Ishpeming senior Katlynne Carlson, both also Quarterfinalists last weekend, are back. Richmond senior Noelle Scheuer, the best non-senior in last season’s qualifying block, qualified again, a couple spots back of senior teammate Payton Dickson, who put up an impressive 1,225 to win that tournament.
Division 3 boys
Team: Unranked Ishpeming is looking to finish a title run after rolling the best qualifying block at last season’s Final by 100 pins but falling in the championship match by 30. The Hematites won their Regional with the second-highest score in Division 3, 4,085. The top score in Division 3 belonged to another unranked team, Corunna, which rolled a 4,174 to win its Regional by 473 pins over top-ranked Armada.
Singles: All but four of last season’s 16 match play participants were seniors, but Fremont junior Sam Brandt is back after making the Semifinals last season, while senior teammate Jeremy Pikaart won last weekend’s Regional after making the Quarterfinals in 2013 and Ishpeming senior Matt Kilberg qualified again after also making last year’s quarters. Five Division 3 qualifiers broke 1,300 at Regionals, led by Pinconning senior Calvin Kerr at 1,374.
Division 4 girls
Team: Reigning champion Vandercook Lake and reigning runner-up Sandusky have finished some combination of first and second each of the last three seasons. So of course they are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, again. Sandusky posted the division’s best Regional score of 3,716, with Vandercook Lake one pin off at 3,715 – so another classic could be inevitable. Unranked Ravenna, another Regional champion rolling 3,399, is an intriguing possibility to join the favorites.
Singles: Vandercook Lake senior Malloree Ambs defeated Oscoda junior Paige Huebel by only 14 pins in last season’s Final, and both are back – Ambs as a Regional champion with a score of 1,244, 98 pins better than the next best in Division 4. Rogers City junior Rebecca Bannasch also was a Semifinalist last season, and she won her Regional by 21 pins.
Division 4 boys
Team: Reigning champion Riverview Gabriel Richard was one of eight Davison 4 teams that broke 3,700 pins at Regionals – but Gabriel Richard finished only second to Jonesville, which rolled 3,788. No. 6 Ithaca and unranked Kent City were the only teams to break 3,800 pins as both won their Regionals. Neither of those two nor Jonesville qualified for the Finals in 2013.
Singles: A pair of freshmen rolled off in last season’s championship match, with Rogers City’s Bailey Budnik the eventual victor. He’s back this season, with another sophomore – Lakeview's Ryan Finup – bowling the division’s best Regional score of 1,231. Three freshmen – St. Charles' Kyle Tuttle, Sandusky’s Cody Johnston and Hanover-Horton’s Zach White – also won Regional titles.
PHOTO: Vandercook Lake’s Malloree Ambs watches one of her shots during last season's Division 4 Singles Final. She’s back in an attempt to repeat as champion. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
HOWELL – The Fowlerville bowling program started with a question.
Brent Wood was an eighth grader, bowling in the local rec department junior high league, when he saw the Howell High School team practicing a few lanes over one afternoon. He’d enjoyed bowling with his family growing up, but what grabbed his attention that day was the friendly atmosphere at the Highlanders’ practice – everyone seemed to be having fun.
So he asked his mom Denise, a speech therapist in the Fowlerville district, why their school didn’t have a team too.
She went to athletic director Brian Osborn for the answer, and it was a pretty simple one – the athletic department hadn’t been able to find a coach to start one up.
“I’m the kind of mom that if my kid wants it, I’ll see how I can make it happen,” Denise Wood said. “And when Brent is driven by something, I know he’ll do well at it.”
Denise Wood figured out how to bring high school bowling to Fowlerville – and then some.
Never before a coach, nor a bowler outside of family fun, she agreed to start a Gladiators high school bowling program – one that four years later has two varsities and a JV team and had to make cuts this winter for the first time.
Building any program from ground level is full of challenges. Throw in a pandemic, and it gets tougher for sure. But knocking down obstacles has been like knocking down pins – it’s a bit of a theme for the quickly-growing program, its coach and the now-senior who got things rolling.
Bowling began for Brent
Brent Wood had played baseball and flag football and wrestled growing up. He tried everything his mom would let him, and that’s impressive enough – he doesn’t have a complete right hip, just bone on bone where the femur and pelvis meet.
Considering that challenge, opportunities in those other sports faded as he grew older. And he wasn’t a big fan of school either. But Denise Wood knew a bowling team would motivate Brent to stay active and do well academically.
Does it hurt where that hip padding should be? Brent said no – it just feels like what he knows to be normal. But Mom said she can tell when it does, and he’s had 13 surgeries over the years. Brent still managed to play those sports and learn how to ride a bike with just his left leg – “and I still manage to bowl somewhat decent some days,” he said.
He’s actually become an all-league bowler – most recently finishing ninth at the White Lake Lakeland Invitational last weekend – while employing an uncommon style.
Generally, a left-handed bowler will land on the right foot when releasing the ball. Wood instead lands on his left, or opposite foot, to stay off the right one.
Denise Wood describes it as being a “very non-traditional single-handed lefty who has figured out how to make it work.” Brent said when he first started this bowling style, it was a little complicated – but last summer he took lessons and upped his knowledge by competing in a number of tournaments and against a variety of oil patterns. Additionally, “Over the summer I’ve seen one or two people land on the wrong foot like I do,” Wood said, “so I know I’m not the only one who does it.”
He'll be the second Fowlerville bowler to continue at the college level. He’ll join friend Trevor Cockerill, who graduated last year, at nearby Cleary University where he’ll compete for coach Hayley Dann – who impressed the family by telling them that instead of trying to change Brent’s style, she’ll “work with him with what he’s got,” Denise Wood recalled.
“That’s the coach I need, because that’s what Brent does – he works with what he’s got,” Denise said. “Brent is naturally athletically talented, and when it comes to stuff that’s athletic he’s quite the problem solver. He figures out how to do things.”
Starting from scratch
Mom figured things out, too.
Denise Wood calls herself a “google coach” – as in, she googles to learn drills and pick up tips on how to better guide the Gladiators. But considering the system she and her assistants have built over a short time, she’s not giving herself enough credit.
When Wood first asked Osborn why there wasn’t a program, she followed up by asking if a potential coach needed to be a good bowler. Osborn said not necessarily – if she was willing to learn the bowling side, he would help with how school-based sports work and take care of as much paperwork as possible.
First, the team needed somewhere to bowl. Fowlerville has made its home at Howell’s Bowl-E-Drome, about a 20-minute drive for practices twice a week.
The bowlers arrived. Fowlerville’s first season in 2019-20 saw 10 boys and two girls come out, making up a co-ed varsity and boys junior varsity team.
Next came “learning the bowling side” – and definitely, the internet helped. Mining various bowling websites and coaching resources, she’s put together a series of drills – all of her bowlers have copies of each in a folder they keep on hand – and with assistants Kelli Wilbur and Kevin Mahon designed practices to begin at the start of the season with skills assessments and then be organized by ability level to provide for more focused attention and instruction. The bowlers also make use of the school’s weight room one day a way – adjusting all of this around schedules for students who also dance, play in the band and train for other sports.
Wilbur and Mahon are experienced bowlers, and their additions have allowed Wood the last few years to focus more on team-building activities and administrative responsibilities like signing up for tournaments and data collection. For competitions, the three coaches take turns coaching each team so that all three become familiar with all of the Gladiators’ styles.
The majority of the bowlers are newcomers to the sport. Junior Emma Wilbur – Kelli’s daughter and the top roller on the girls team – counted herself and two more teammates who had grown up bowling.
“A lot of kids that come in, come in with no bowling experience whatsoever. They just heard it was fun, they wanted to be part of a team,” Wood said. “So this year we actually did an interview for the kids – they had to fill out a personal interview for why they came out for bowling. A lot of it was to have fun, become part of a team, and some kids said to become a better bowler.”
Turning to Paige
After a promising start, the program simply had to survive its second year.
With COVID-19 making everything more complicated, Fowlerville found itself with only five bowlers for the 2020-21 season – and couldn’t even bowl as a team at its Regional with Emma Wilbur in quarantine. Families weren’t allowed to watch competitions, and just getting the word out was a challenge.
But Paige Frazier saved the day, figuratively speaking – and more realistically, potentially the program.
She solved some of the information block by starting Facebook and Instagram feeds for the bowling program that included video streams of competitions and updated information on cancelations and quarantines. “It definitely brought in a lot of attention,” Frazier remembered.
“If we hadn’t had Paige our COVID year, we wouldn’t have had a season at all,” Wood said. “Paige, I call her my female rock, because she kept the team alive.”
The work done during the COVID season paid off as the team got back in gear for last winter. The bowlers added to their social media marketing by hanging up fliers and getting word out on the program in the school’s morning announcements, and for 2021-22 enough bowlers came out to have separate girls and boys varsities for the first time.
“I had a lot of people ask me about it. A lot of people didn’t even know about it for a good two years,” Emma Wilbur said. “I had a couple friends who said they would try it out.”
Off and rolling again
The interview results from tryouts this season check out. While the team is serious about competing and succeeding, having fun and being part of a team are top priorities for most. The car rides to practices and bus rides to competitions are the best parts.
There’s still some convincing to do among classmates who might not consider bowling a sport. “They laugh about it until they find out we have a 1:30 dismissal for all the meets,” Wilbur said. But she and Frazier both play other sports too – Wilbur soccer and Frazier tennis – and realize the value in what they’ve helped create.
“I think being able to do something that you love to do, with all of your friends, a sport that you can go and do on the weekends and go and do after school … anytime that you want to you can go and do that,” Wilbur noted.
“Bowling's a really social sport,” Frazier added, “so you just learn to get along really well with your teammates, and just kinda relax and enjoy it.”
The Gladiators bowl in league matches once a week and have tournaments most January and February weekends through the regular season. Osborn said he’s excited to see so much interest at each grade level and is hopeful the program will continue to grow.
Brent Wood asked a winning question. The answer has been even better.
“It’s nice to see that we got everyone together that loves to do what we love to do,” Brent Wood said.
“Just seeing everyone enjoy the moment.”
Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He is a senior editor of MHSAA.com's editorial content and has served as MHSAA Communications Director since January 2021. Contact him at Geoff@mhsaa.com with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fowlerville bowler Ethan Hall begins his approach. (2) Brent Wood shows his left-handed, left-footed bowling style. (3) Fowlerville’s Paige Frazier, top, and Emma Wilbur. (4) Fowlerville’s girls and boys teams this season, including head coach Denise Wood, top row far left, and assistants Kevin Mahon and Kelli Wilbur. (Photos courtesy of the Fowlerville bowling program.)