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.
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.)