By Sarah Jaeger
Special for Second Half
WATERFORD – Flint Kearsley can add another championship to its school bowling history. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer can add its first.
After Kearsley won its second Finals team title in as many years Friday, junior Chad Stephens took home the singles title Saturday at Century Lanes in Waterford. Reeths-Puffer senior Kayleigh Gonzalez, meanwhile, claimed her school’s first bowling title in her first Singles Finals appearance.
"It's pretty great, back-to-back titles as a team and coming back and winning singles," Stephens said. "It's pretty incredible."
To claim his second championship of the weekend, Stephens in the Final faced Charlotte senior Collin Fox, no stranger to competing for an MHSAA title.
"I think he's a great quality bowler," said Charlotte coach David Jackson. "He finished third last year. I think he was in the final eight the year before. I kind of thought he'd go all the way today."
However, Stephens jumped to an early lead with a 226 to Fox's 179. While Fox came back with a 207, Stephens finished the set with a 187 to win with a total of 413 to Fox's 386.
While the end result may not have been to Fox's liking, he will take with him a memorable moment from the 2015 Singles Finals. "Picking up the 7-10," said Fox. "That's probably the highlight. I guess it's a good way to end senior year."
"I'm sorry to lose him," Jackson added. " I kept telling him to fail some test so he could come back and bowl some more. He wouldn't listen."
The toughest match for Stephens may not have been the Final but rather the Semifinal, where he had to take on his teammate, Kearsley senior Anthony Kelley.
"I don't really like facing a teammate," said Stephens, "but on the lanes it's just business. You have to work hard for this game no matter who you're bowling."
"I had to continually remind them to take it seriously because after this you've got one more match to bowl somebody," said Flint Kearsley coach Bart Rutledge. "So you can't let up and let the emotion go."
Emotions were high in the girls singles competition as well. The final match pinned Muskegon Reeths-Puffer’s Gonzalez against Tecumseh junior Kayla Wild.
While both left some open frames during the first game, Gonzales was able to put a string of strikes together and take the lead 210 to 175.
"I knew that I had a little bit of an advantage because I had a 210 the first game," said Gonzalez. "So as long as I kept at a steady pace with her, I knew I was ok."
Pace she did. Gonzalez finished with a 182 while Wild had trouble covering some of her spares, throwing a 175 for her last game.
"I thought I bowled well all day," Wild said. "I was surprised when I missed that many spares the last game. I know my thumb started to hurt, but that's not an excuse. I could have got them."
While she may have appeared calm after claiming the Division 2 singles championship, Gonzalez was in shock.
"I was kind of surprised," said Gonzalez, who will attend Muskegon Community College next year and bowl for the Jayhawks. "I didn't think I'd actually win. I was just happy to get into the top 16."
"This was the third year in a row we were able to come for Team (Finals)," said Reeths-Puffer assistant coach, Marc Vanderstelt, also Gonzalez's stepdad, "but the first chance for Kayleigh as an individual in the three years she's been on the team. She just did a phenomenal job."
As for the runner-up, Wild, this was only her third year bowling. Being a junior, she is poised to come back stronger for her senior year.
"You know when you get to that top 16 anything can happen," said Tecumseh coach Ken Richard. "We'll work on her spare shooting and the mental game to pull it off."
Wild's hope is to do what Kearsley's Stephen did this year: "A state championship, either team or individual, or both would work."
Join Elizabeth Coon as they take a look at all of the action from the 2023 Team Bowling Finals.
Congratulations to our champions:
Division 1 Boys - Wayne Memorial
Division 1 Girls - Holt
Division 2 Boys - Flint Kearsley
Division 2 Girls - Sparta
Division 3 Boys - Lansing Catholic
Division 3 Girls - Flint Powers
Division 4 Boys - Grass Lake
Division 4 Girls - Taylor Trillium Academy