By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
CANTON — A fast start proved to be the difference for Wayland’s Sydney Urben on Saturday.
She rolled strikes in the first four frames of her Division 2 Singles Final, and used that momentum to claim her school’s first MHSAA bowling championship.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” she said, “because I knew Imari (Blond, of Flint Kearsley) is a really good bowler. I knew she would be tough competition. I knew I had to hang with her, and I did.”
Urben is no stranger to Finals. She was on the Wayland softball team when it won the Division 2 championship in 2015, and reached the Bowling Singles Finals the next year as a sophomore before losing to Flint Kearsley’s Hannah Ploof.
“My mindset (Saturday) was it’s my last time I’m ever going to be here,” Urben said. “(Winning the title) has been my goal since my sophomore year. I couldn’t get it done (last year). This time I gave myself a chance just by making the cut. So I might as well finish strong, you know?”
Urben won the first game 225-171, which gave her more than enough cushion as Blond won the second game 185-184.
Urben’s coaches, Sherry Miklusciak and Mike Omness, were proud both for their athlete and for their school as Wayland alums.
But they laughingly won’t take any credit for her success.
“She makes her own moves, all her own ball changes,” Miklusciak said. “She really coaches herself. We really don’t have a lot to do with her (bowling) at all. She is just amazing and powerful.”
And, Urben admitted, a little numb moments after her victory.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” she said. “I’m just really happy.”
Kearsley, which won its fifth consecutive team title Friday, had a chance to have an all-Kearsley final. Blond was on one side of the bracket and teammate Barbara Hawes in the other. But Urben beat Hawes by seven pins in the semifinals.
On the boys side, Alec Keplinger capped off a big week for Coldwater by winning the school’s first individual title in any sport in decades.
Keplinger, a junior, defeated Cadillac sophomore Kyle Vermilyea 431-325 in the championship match.
Keplinger also bowled Friday, when the Cardinals finished runner-up in the team meet, the best team finish in school history.
“I was here last year and made it to the top 16 and struggled after that,” Keplinger said.
That experience helped him Friday as well.
“It definitely was easier,” he said. “Not as much nerves and stuff.”
He held off Vermilyea in the first game, 199-172, then got on a roll in the second in a 232-152 victory.
“I was just staying calm in the second game, and I knew I had it,” Keplinger said. “I was just excited (afterward). I’ve been very close in many different (events), and I was super happy for my parents and my coach (Frank Demond). He’s been coaching a long time. It means a lot.”
Although Keplinger has plans to pursue a repeat title next year, he’s also looking ahead, having committed to bowl in college at Wichita State University.
In the meantime, he’ll continue to be a three-sport athlete. He plays tennis in the fall and golfs in the spring.
For now, though, he’ll savor his MHSAA Finals championship.
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.)