By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Few MHSAA tournaments are tougher to analyze and predict than the Girls and Boys Bowling Finals.
The top scorers from last weekend’s Regionals included a number of unranked teams, and two of the No. 1-ranked lineups at the start of the postseason didn’t qualify for Friday’s Team Finals to be contested at four bowling centers – Division 1 at Sterling Heights’ Sterling Lanes, Division 2 at Canton’s Super Bowl, Division 3 at Jackson’s Airport Lanes and Division 4 at Lansing’s Royal Scot.
Saturday’s singles competition will feature a few more familiar faces. St. Louis’ Kyle Tuttle is going for his third championship, and past champion Bailey Budnik of Rogers City is in the Division 4 field. Three of the other seven reigning champions also will return with repeats in mind.
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: Macomb Dakota broke Davison’s three-season hold on Division 1 last year (Davison finished runner-up), and Dakota has remained ranked No. 1 this winter – although the Cougars finished only second at their Regional at Sterling Lanes. Fourth-ranked Davison did win its division with a score of 3,736, which ranked fifth of 18 qualifying teams total. Unranked Bay City Western led the way with a Division 1-best 3,876 – the Warriors are in Division 1 this season after finishing runner-up in Division 2 in 2014 and 2015. Second-ranked Westland John Glenn, No. 5 St. Clair Shores Lakeview and unranked Farmington also were among top Regional scorers.
Singles: Of last season’s four semifinalists, only champion Allison Morris of Ann Arbor Huron graduated. The other three all are back; Davison junior Taylor Davis won her Regional with the second-highest score in Division 1, 1,283 pins, while Canton junior Meghan Macunovich and Caledonia sophomore Macailin Rodriguez also qualified again. Farmington junior Candyce Bradley paced the division with a 1,290, and Brighton sophomore Natalie Klein was right behind winning her Regional with a 1,278. Total, nine bowlers rolled between 1,240-1,290 last weekend, which could be an indicator of a tight race Saturday.
Boys Division 1
Team: Reigning champion Wayne Memorial is unranked but back in the mix after finishing second at its Regional at Super Bowl in Canton. But 11 of 18 qualifiers rolled 4,000 or higher last weekend, led by also-unranked Roseville, which with 4,248 pins held off No. 4 Macomb Dakota (4,198) in a Regional that produced the day’s two highest Division 1 scores. Both finished ahead of top-ranked Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, which also impressed with a 4,158. Flint Carman-Ainsworth, also unranked, had the day’s best score outside of Sterling Heights, winning its Regional at Royal Scot in Lansing with a 4,193.
Singles: L’Anse Creuse North senior Kyle Hayes was the only non-senior in the semifinals last season – he ended up runner-up – and he won his Regional last weekend with a Division 1-best 1,416 to clear the Sterling Heights field by 160 pins. Swartz Creek senior Chase Kaufman was one of only two other non-seniors to make the quarterfinals last season, and he posted the second-highest Regional score this time with a 1,393 at Royal Scot.
Girls Division 2
Team: Flint Kearsley has won the last two Division 2 championships and three of the last four, but entered the postseason ranked only No. 3 and finished second at its Regional to Mason by 136 pins. Top-ranked Jackson justified its spot with the top Division 2 Regional score in the state, 3,866, and No. 2 Tecumseh also showed its ranking to be true with the second-highest Division 2 score of 3,831. Only Mason, Charlotte and Sturgis (the latter two following Jackson at Kalamazoo’s Continental Lanes) also approached 3,800.
Singles: Last season’s Division 2 champion, Kayleigh Gonzalez of Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, also was a senior. But 2015 runner-up Kayla Wild is a senior now at Tecumseh and rolled a Regional-winning 1,299 last weekend. Flint Kearsley senior Hannah Ploof, a semifinalist in 2014, won her Regional in a Division 2-best 1,318, and Taylor Kennedy freshman Abigail Bird also made an impression finishing second to Wild with a 1,297 at Score Lanes in Taylor. Jackson junior Jamie Bleiler emerged as champion from a tight race in Kalamazoo that saw five qualifiers roll 1,206 or higher.
Boys Division 2
Team: Fourth-ranked Flint Kearsley also has owned the boys competition with two straight Finals championships and won its Regional with a 4,266 that was the second-highest score in all of Division 2. Unranked Taylor Kennedy earned the top statewide honor with a division-best 4,392 to win its Regional at Score Lanes. Total, seven teams cleared 4,000 pins at Regionals, including No. 2 Tecumseh, No. 3 Coldwater, No. 5 Sturgis and No. 9 Owosso – and also unranked Lansing Eastern, which finished second to Kearsley and with the third-highest score in the entire division of 4,156. Top-ranked St. Clair Shores Lake Shore also was a Regional champ rolling a 3,898 at Oak Lanes in Westland.
Singles: Reigning champion Chad Stephen, a senior at Kearsley, finished third at his Regional with a 1,269 behind junior teammate Bryce McKerchie (1,273) and Lansing Waverly junior champion Nick Behrens (1,275). The top two Regional scores from the division came out of Taylor, where New Boston Huron senior Cody Farr rolled a 1,361 and Melvindale sophomore Marcus McClain followed him with a 1,311. Sturgis senior Michael Fitzsimmons was a quarterfinalist last season and just made the cut this time with a ninth-place finish, but junior teammate Austin Robison won the Regional at Kalamazoo with a 1,295 that was the third-highest score in the division for the day.
Girls Division 3
Team: Top-ranked Croswell-Lexington, the champion in 2014, was a Regional champion this time by more than 350 pins with a score of 3,478. But unranked Flat Rock made the biggest impression, rolling a 3,847 to win its Regional at Flat Rock Lanes by more than 600 pins. Reigning champion Corunna also was a Regional winner, as was No. 3 Yale, No. 6 Hudsonville Unity Christian and unranked Cheboygan.
Singles: Reigning runner-up Breanna Johnson, a junior at Dundee, is the lone semifinalist back as the other three last season were seniors. She finished runner-up at last weekend’s Regional to Flat Rock senior Kayla Jackson, who rolled the highest score in Division 3 of 1,189. Saginaw Swan Valley junior Becca Curtis just missed that honor, winning her Regional with a count of 1,186, and Grand Rapids West Catholic junior Katelyn LaBelle was right there too winning her Regional with a 1,173.
Boys Division 3
Team: Second-ranked Jonesville (4,056) and unranked Croswell-Lexington (4,027) were the only teams in Division 3 to break 4,000 pins last weekend, both winning Regionals in the process. Top-ranked Corunna just missed qualifying for the Finals, while reigning champion Armada is in Division 2 this season and reigning runner-up (and No. 4-ranked) Richmond also didn’t qualify. Third-ranked Essexville Garber should also be in the mix after winning its Regional with a 3,747, and three more teams cleared 3,800 pins.
Singles: Reigning champion Tyler Kolassa of Warren Lincoln is back, placing third at the Regional after winning Division 3 as a sophomore. Jonesville’s Jonah Boot was a semifinalist last season and won his Regional with a 1,168. Total, seven competitors last weekend including Kolassa cleared 1,200 pins; Marine City’s Jonathan Dean scored highest with 1,238 also at Kolassa’s Regional at Cherry Hill Lanes in Dearborn Heights. Battle Creek Pennfield junior Bailey Neal had the second-highest Division 3 score, winning his Regional at Eastland Bowl in Kalalamazoo with a 1,242.
Girls Division 4
Team: After making only the Quarterfinals last season and seeing its two-year title streak come to an end, Vandercook Lake is a favorite again to win its fourth Division 4 title in six seasons. The Jayhawks cleared the rest of the Division 4 field with a Regional score last week of 3,708 – nearly 300 pins better than the next best, reigning Finals champion St. Louis (3,433). However, six more teams cleared 3,300 pins and will be hoping Vandercook Lake stays close to the pack Friday.
Singles: They Jayhawks also had the two highest-scoring singles in Division 4, freshman Mackenzie Johnson at 1,192 and senior Lillian Warner and 1,162. Hanover-Horton senior Emma Davis was the Division 4 singles champion last season, and she should be among those chased again; her 1,136 Regional score was fourth-best for all of Division 4 and third at her Regional behind only the Vandercook Lake pair.
Boys Division 4
Team: None of the last three Division 4 champions qualified for team competition Friday, and neither did top-ranked Ithaca. Second-ranked Vandercook Lake did, as Regional runner-up to Hudson, which had the second-highest score in Division 4 (3,817) to unranked Rogers City (3,840). St. Charles and St. Louis, ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, took the top two spots at the Regional where Ithaca finished outside the top three, and Nos. 5 and 6 Bad Axe and Sandusky both broke 3,700 pins to take the top two places at Bay Lanes in Bay City.
Singles: The two bowlers who combined to win the last three championships are both back – two-time reigning winner Kyle Tuttle, a St. Charles junior, won his Regional with a score of 1,270, while 2013 champ Bailey Budnick of Rogers City just made the Finals one more time with a 10th-place finish at his Regional. Only 12 bowlers in Division 4 broke 1,200 pins last Saturday, but only Adrian Madison senior Isaac Solis broke 1,300 – he won his Regional with a 1,307. The two bowlers Tuttle beat in the final rounds last season both also will be back – Oscoda sophomore Grant Huebel was a semifinalist in 2015 and qualified fifth from his Regional, and Bad Axe senior Ethan Sobczak is the reigning Finals runner-up and finished one spot ahead of Huebel last weekend at Bay Lanes.
PHOTO: The Flint Kearsley girls and boys bowling teams pose with their trophies after both repeated as Division 2 champions last season.
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.)