Preview: Contenders New and Old

March 5, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

All eight MHSAA bowling champions from 2014 will return for this weekend’s Team Finals on Friday, and four who have won individual titles will compete in Singles Finals on Saturday.

But that hardly means we should expect everything to fall into place as it has in the recent past.

Contenders old and also new abound for this weekend’s tournaments, the 12th since bowling became an MHSAA-sponsored sport in 2004. Read about them below.

All Team Finals are Friday, and Singles Finals are Saturday. Click for the full list of qualifiers, and come back to Second Half all weekend for coverage from all four Finals sites.

Girls Division 1

Team: Davison is rolling on a three-year championship streak and enters the weekend as again a Regional champion – although its 3,376 qualifying score was only third highest in the division as a whole. Macomb Dakota (4,194) and Westland John Glenn (4,141) both broke 4,000 pins and have plenty of experience at this level – John Glenn was runner-up to Davison last season, and Dakota fell to Davison in the Semifinal. Dakota sophomore Tamera Robinson (1,271) won the individual Regional title at Star Lanes in Sterling Heights while three more teammates finished among the top nine; John Glenn placed four among the top eight and three among the top four at Canton’s Super Bowl.

Singles: Last season’s MHSAA Final was a matchup of John Glenn bowlers, and both return – junior Emily Dietz, the champion, was eighth at her Regional with a 1,183, while junior Julia Huren was second at 1,333. Total, nine of last season’s 16 match play finalists will compete again this weekend, but four of the top five Regional qualifying scores were by bowlers not part of that group – Canton sophomore Megan Macunovich (1,345), Brighton freshman Natalie Klein (1,331), Zeeland sophomore Olivia Hoeksema (1,308) and Caledonia freshman Macalin Rodriguez (1,300).

Boys Division 1

Teams: Reigning champion Detroit U-D Jesuit will be back after rolling a 3,705 to finish second at its Regional at Woodhaven Lanes. But 12 qualifiers broke 4,000 pins, with Saginaw Heritage (4,325) and Canton (4,231) topping the list. Heritage went on to place four individual qualifiers among the top 10 of that competition, led by senior Derrick Norman; his 1,569 easily was the highest Regional score in any division. Reigning runner-up Grand Haven and semifinalist Oxford both also made the field, although both finished as Regional runners-up last weekend.

Singles: Norman made the quarterfinals last season, and he’ll be joined in the field this weekend by Grand Haven sophomore Jimmy Mitchell, a semifinalist in 2014. Clarkston junior Jacob Kersten, Hudsonville senior Travis Schreer and Macomb Dakota senior Justin Taylor also are back after making last winter’s match play, Kersten as a Regional champion last weekend. Flint Carman-Ainsworth junior Jordan Nunn would’ve been at any other Regional, with his 1,400 placing second to Norman at Lansing’s Royal Scot.

Girls Division 2

Team: This follows a similar theme as Division 1, with reigning champion Flint Kearsley seeking its third championship in four seasons and entering as a Regional winner – although with only the sixth-best score from last weekend. Warren Regina (3,645) topped the list, with Grand Rapids Northview (3,591), Charlotte (3,517), Bay City Western (3,517) and Tecumseh (3,492) also joining Kearsley (3,490) as winners. Western, last season’s Finals runners-up, then placed four among the top five in the singles standings with co-champs in juniors Alexia Richard and Storm Butler.

Singles: Kearsley returns two of last year’s 16 match-place qualifiers including semifinalist Hannah Ploof, a junior, who won her Regional rolling 1,140. Regina sophomore Madchen Breen will return for her second Finals after rolling the highest Regional score in any division – 1,267 – with Coldwater senior Patricia Neely posting the second-highest in Division 2 at 1,182. Kearsley senior Dani Doolan, Charlotte junior Malorie Kiplinger and West Branch Ogeamw Heights senior Riley Griffin also are among qualifiers who made Finals match play in 2014.

Boys Division 2

Team: Ortonville Brandon was the lone qualifier to break 4,000 pins at a Division 2 Regional, its 4,403 more than 70 pins better than anyone else in the division after it made match play but fell to eventual champion Kearsley in the Quarterfinals last season. Kearsley also won a Regional title last weekend at 3,971, the second-highest score in Division 2, and with junior Chad Stephen and senior Anthony Kelley making the Singles Finals.

Singles: Stephen and Trenton senior David Owens were quarterfinalists last year, and they’ll be joined in the field by four more 2014 match play qualifiers: Kelley, Marysville senior Tyler Fields, Parma Western senior Andrew Mulliken and Jackson Northwest senior Brian Lewis. Fields rolled a division-best 1,388 to win his Regional at Westland’s Oak Lanes, while Bay City Western junior Dylan Brown rolled a 1,355 to win at Monitor Lanes in Bay City and come in with the division’s second-highest singles pinfall.

Girls Division 3

Team: Ishpeming is storming back into the Finals after making its first championship match and finishing runner-up to Croswell-Lexington last season. The Hematites had a Division 3-best Regional score of 3,410, with Jonesville next-highest winning at 3,385 at Monroe’s Nortel Lanes. Three of Ishpeming’s five bowlers from last season’s run are back and also made the Singles Finals – seniors Kaylee O’Connor and Kassy Harsila and junior Kassey Kytola.

Singles: Corunna junior Hannah Eldridge finished first in the 2014 qualifying block and made the Semifinal, and she’ll return this weekend after qualifying 10th at her Regional. Croswell-Lexington senior Katie LaPorte and Standish-Sterling junior Dayna Schmidt also will be back from last season’s match play, Schmidt as a Regional champion last weekend. Dundee sophomore Breanna Johnson (1,155) and Leslie senior Tiffany Hills (1,117) were the high scorers at Regionals for this division; neither made the Finals a year ago.

Boys Division 3

Team: Fremont is the reigning champion and has won two of the last three seasons, but will have some heavy competition after qualifying second from its Regional. Jackson Lumen Christi (3,937) and Armada (3,909) both won Regionals to pace Division 3 after both falling in last season’s Quarterfinals. The favorites will be keyed by standouts; Fremont is led again by senior Sam Brandt, last season’s high roller for his team in the Team Final and then Singles Final champion. Lumen Christi has a collection of strong seniors including Zach Ulicny, the reigning Singles Final runner-up. Reigning Division 4 champion Jonesville qualified third behind Lumen Christi and Flat Rock at Nortel Lanes.

Singles: Last season’s finalists will be joined this weekend by four more who made the 2014 match play: Essexville-Garber senior Chase Badalamenti, a returning semifinalist, plus Portland junior Marcus Zinn, Wyoming Godwin Heights junior Zac Vos and Lumen Christi senior Matt Nicoson. Cheboygan senior Matt Duffiney won his Regional by nearly 150 pins with a division-best 1,331, and Romulus Summit Academy freshman Ryan Wright burst on the scene with a 1,275 to win his tournament.

Girls Division 4

Team: Vandercook Lake, Sandusky and Rogers City have dominated Division 4 since its creation in 2010, with Vandercook Lake the two-time reigning champion and owner of four MHSAA titles total. But the Jaykawks posted only the second-highest Regional score (3,538), with St. Louis rolling a 3,545 to edge Ithaca by a mere eight pins at Mount Pleasant’s Riverwood Resort. Rogers City (3,483) again was a Regional champion after finishing Finals runner-up a year ago, and Burton Bendle (3,409) also broke 3,400 to win its Regional by nearly 400 pins.

Singles: Although all four of last season’s semifinalists graduated, seven match play qualifiers are again in the field. Sandusky senior Keri Malloy, Unionville-Sebewaing senior Kyleigh McCarthy and Rogers City junior Rebecca Bannasch and junior Alana Wirgau all bowled in the quarterfinals last season, while Hanover-Horton junior Emma Davis, St. Ignace senior Sharman Colegrove and Oscoda senior Paige Huebel also made the Round of 16. Clinton junior Miranda Porath and Sandusky junior Leslie Williams made the Finals but missed match play in 2014, but they’re back with the top Regional scores in the division of 1,143 and 1,121, respectively.

Boys Division 4

Team: Three teams broke 3,900 to win Regional titles – Sandusky (4,057), St. Charles (3,988) and Hanover-Horton (3,923). St. Charles, winner of the first Division 4 title in 2009, is led by sophomore Kyle Tuttle, last season’s Singles Final champion. Reigning team champion Jonesville is in Division 3 this season and runner-up Ithaca didn’t qualify, but Sandusky was a semifinalist a year ago and also had three make the Singles Finals led by junior Brett Hancock.

Singles: This session of the entire weekend might have the most returning star power. Joining Tuttle are Rogers City junior Bailey Budnik, the 2013 Singles champ, and St. Louis senior Zach Fenby, last winter’s runner-up. Riverview Gabriel Richard junior Austin Kraemer made the semifinals last season and won his Regional last weekend with a division-best 1,372. Hanover-Horton senior Alex Wyckoff, Kalamazoo Hackett senior Zack Isaacs, Galesburg-Augusta senior Joshua Wayne and St. Louis senior Jeffrey Fisher also are back from last season’s match play. Pewamo-Westphalia senior Chase Thelen didn’t make last season’s Finals – but did break 1,300 as well last weekend to win his Regional.

PHOTO: Rogers City’s Bailey Budnik was the Division 4 Singles champion in 2013 and returns as a contender this weekend.

Fast-Building Fowlerville Bowling Program Growing Into Striking Success

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 26, 2023

HOWELL – The Fowlerville bowling program started with a question.

Mid-MichiganBrent 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.

Brent Wood shows his left-handed, left-footed bowling style. 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.

Fowlerville’s girls and boys teams this season, including head coach Denise Wood, top row far left, and assistants Kevin Mahon and Kelli Wilbur. Challenge accepted.

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.

Fowlerville’s Paige Frazier, top, and Emma Wilbur. 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.)