ALLEN PARK – The minute she saw the match play draw at Saturday’s Division 1 Bowling Singles Finals, Oxford’s Megan Armbruster’s eyes lit up. She had already mentally circled a name on her half of the draw.
A year ago Armbruster’s dreams of winning an individual championship were dashed by Jenison’s Lauren Slagter, who ousted Armbruster in the first round of match play. It’s something that did not sit well with the Wildcats senior. So when she saw a potential semifinal matchup at this year’s Finals, she was all in.
“(Slagter) had knocked me out last year and I was upset,” Armbruster said. “After I won the quarterfinal match here today, I noticed that I had to play her and I just wanted to get revenge.”
She certainly got her revenge, and then went on to defeat St. Clair Shores Lake Shore sophomore Dani Decruydt in the title match, 416-367, at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park.
“It feels so awesome to finish my career off like that,” said Armbruster, who was seeded 12th out of the qualifying round. “It was super quiet out there, and my legs were shaking, but I didn’t feel my nerves at all. I just kept throwing the ball, staying super calm and shooting the ball one at a time.”
Armbruster collected four strikes in her first five frames of the final and did not have an open frame the entire first game. She led Decruydt by 34 pins after Game 1 and calmly pulled away for the first Finals singles bowling title in Oxford history.
“I’m especially proud of Megan. Her brother (Eric) bowled for me when she was like in the sixth grade,” said her coach, J.R. Lafnear. “She saw her brother bowl … and she fell in love with the sport.
“So she began working with us. Her mom and the rest of her family are outstanding supporters of our program. For her it’s special.”
Armbruster defeated Taylor’s Abigail Bird in her first match of the day before ousting Flushing’s Evelyn Cano in the quarterfinals.
Decruydt was the seventh seed after six games of qualifying action. She defeated Farmington-Harrison’s Carrington Beaman in her first match and followed it up with wins over Holt’s Gabriella Van Horn and Jenison’s Anna Bartz to reach the Final.
“Dani never gets too high or too low,” said her coach, Jeff Villasurda. “The great thing about Dani is that nothing ever really fazes her. Nothing’s too big for her. So she wasn’t really fazed by what was going on out there. The other girl just made a couple extra shots.”
Over on the boys’ side, Brownstown Woodhaven senior Jeff Lizewski went out in style, catching fire at just the right time.
After piecing together a mediocre qualifying block score of 1,210 – good for just the 15th seed – Lizewski averaged a 222 over eight games of match play, capping things off with a 453-322 victory over Jenison senior Nick Slagter.
Lizewski strung together five straight strikes to open the final and never really had to look back.
“I came out of qualifying 15th, and I started off real bad. I didn’t have a good look at all in the first game,” said Lizewski, who reached the quarterfinal round last year as a junior. “I made a big ball switch, and I threw it until I came home with a win.”
Lizewski, who will be bowling at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater next year, narrowly edged the 2-seed, Abery Thomas of Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, in his first match, 445-440. He then got past Macomb Dakota’s Kyle Finn, 443-435, in the quarterfinals and downed Salem’s John Hall, 433-325, in the semifinals.
Slagter defeated Saline’s Dallas Casey and Walled Lake Central’s Nick Casagrande and Jarrod Willbur in his next two matches to reach the final.
“If there was one person I’d want to lose to over there it would be Lizewski,” said Slagter, who wrapped up his high school career Saturday. “I have bowled against him in some out-of-season tournaments, and he’s filthy.
“I feel like I bowled great this weekend. I tried my best in the team event yesterday, and we fell just a little short in making the cut. But today, I did fall a little short in the championship match but I’m really happy overall. I had fun.”
WATERFORD – All Waterford Mott head boys bowling coach Rob Hanson wanted to do was have a personal practice session.
Little did he know it would randomly plant a seed that would eventually produce some state high school bowling history.
More than two years ago, after finding some rare time outside his coaching duties to work on his own game at a local center, Hanson noticed a kid coming in with his grandmother to bowl.
Hanson immediately took notice of how well the kid was bowling and the fact he had a pair of Waterford Mott soccer shorts on. So he asked the kid, then-sophomore Brendan Riley, if he went to the school.
After Riley told Hanson that he did, Hanson had another question for him.
“Why didn’t you try out for bowling?” Hanson said.
Riley said at the time, his mother wasn’t familiar with the bowling team’s schedule and thought it would take too much time away from school.
Once Hanson explained the schedule to the family, Riley ended up trying out after all and made the JV team.
Weeks later, Riley worked his way up to varsity.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After bowling on the varsity for a majority of his sophomore year, Riley as a junior last year won the Division 1 Finals singles championship, capping a rapid rise to the top that might not have happened if not for that chance encounter.
“It was quite surprising,” Riley said. “I wasn’t expecting to see the coach that day. I was just going up to have a good time with my grandma.”
Last year for Riley turned out to be all about his individual success, as he led the Lakes Valley Conference with a 217 average and ended up seeded No. 8 out of the Finals qualifying block.
Riley then rolled to the title, earning a 14-pin win over Mattawan’s Charlie Johnson in the final.
For Riley, his success at the MHSAA Tournament boiled down to one thing: Composure.
“I think the only reason I won was because I had the best attitude,” said Riley, who also was a member of Mott’s soccer team in the fall. “Everyone I bowled in the match play started to get upset at themselves every time they got a split or when they didn’t get a strike.”
As a senior, Riley’s average actually has been down a little compared to last year’s 207, but what his teammates have done has been a bigger testament of his success – and made it even more enjoyable than what he accomplished last year as an individual.
Riley enters Friday’s Regional tournament third on Mott in average behind teammates Dylan Keating and Zechariah Thomas, but that is more a reflection of the improvement those two have shown and how they were inspired by what Riley did last year.
“He hasn’t had a bad year,” Hanson said of Riley. “It’s just that his success is breeding desire for everyone else. His leadership quality is amazing.”
Mott will travel Friday to Century Bowl with four tournament titles, including winning the LVC championship, and a 15-1 record.
Bowling is as fickle a sport as any, but no doubt the Corsairs are contenders if they bowl as they’re capable.
“As a team, it feels a lot better to get more things accomplished beyond just myself,” Riley said.
Riley also has a college future, as he has signed to bowl for Goshen College in Indiana as part of the first recruiting class for the new program.
An individual title last year, team domination so far this season and a future in college bowling? That’s a great crop of greatness that was planted simply by running into Hanson that one day.
“It’s a great story,” Hanson said.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Waterford Mott’s Brendan Riley finds his shot during a match. (Middle) Riley takes a post-tournament photo after winning last season’s singles championship. (Top photo courtesy of the Riley family.)