By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – James Ruoff and Haley Hooper starred in plenty of roles Saturday afternoon during the Division 3 singles bowling championships at M-66 Bowl.
They were comeback kids, winning MHSAA titles after Ruoff qualified as the No. 15 seed and Hooper made it as the No. 16 seed.
They were giant-killers. Hooper began her championship run by knocking off top-seeded Kendra Grandy of Birch Run – on Grandy's 18th birthday – while Ruoff knocked off No. 2 seed Adrian Hall of Corunna in the first round of match play.
And they were record-setters. Ruoff and Hooper, both sophomores at Battle Creek Pennfield, became the first boys and girls singles bowling champions from the same school in the same year in any division. And they did it on their home lanes.
It was quite a weekend for Pennfield, as the boys won the team title Friday and Ruoff and Hooper stole the show Saturday. Airport Lanes in Jackson has hosted Division 3 recently but had to give it up this year because the USBC men's state tournament is being held there, so M-66 Bowl stepped in.
“It's special for us, and it's great for M-66,” Pennfield coach Mike Roach said. “We had more people here, and they stayed longer to support the team if their son or daughter was done bowling, so that's great, and M-66 did a great job this weekend.”
So did the Pennfield bowling teams.
Ruoff won his title first Saturday afternoon, throwing the focus on Hooper, who was bowling at the opposite end of M-66 Bowl. Hooper had won her first game against Grand Rapids South Christian senior Hannah Bergstrom 187-159, and she closed it out with a 212 finish for a 399-325 victory.
“It was tough, but it's unforgettable,” Hooper said. “I was discouraged coming in. I normally don't bowl better on my home lanes, and I had a rough day Friday in team, and then I started off rough in singles.”
She started the six-game qualifying session with a 149, and she averaged 177 over her next five games to slip into the 16-player match-play field by three pins with a 1,034 total. As the games piled up, Hooper's wrist began to ache, so she found a distraction.
“I was singing a song to distract myself from thinking about my wrist hurting,” she said. “It was Beyonce, and the song was ‘Halo.’”
It worked. Hooper went into match play and knocked off the top-seeded Grandy 334-321. In the semis, Grand Rapids South Christian senior Tori Gaskell won the first game by 13 pins, but Hooper rallied with a 205 to advance with a 383-361 victory.
“That took a lot,” she said. “But being behind after the first game really gave me that extra motivation.”
Hooper had a lead throughout the championship match. After winning the first game 187-159, she fired a 212 for her 74-pin victory to complete the Pennfield sweep.
“I've seen it year after year where No. 1 seeds rarely win,” Roach said. “You've already put all your effort in, and once you get in, it's all a level field.
“It's who is going to make that quality shot and pick up that spare. And it's what are you going to do after you miss a spare, because everybody misses a spare, and Haley strikes nine out of 10 times after she misses a spare.”
Ruoff, who bowled anchor for Pennfield as it won the team title Friday, had a similar challenge. He averaged 180 for his first two games in qualifying before running off games of 195, 201, 213 and 179 for a 1,148 total – just 11 pins ahead of the bowler who finished in the 17th spot.
“I knew I needed to make a big push,” Ruoff said. “My Game 5 was good, and Game 6 I got on a pair that I couldn't carry, and I ended up going to that for one of my matches and ended up doing pretty well on it.”
In the first round of match play, Ruoff shot 245 in his first game and overwhelmed second-seeded Hall 416-313.
“I knew I was going to go against the two seed, but I went in last year as the third seed and got kicked out in the first round, so I knew I needed to do the same thing,” Ruoff said.
The tables turned on Ruoff in the Quarterfinals as Chad Birchmeier of Birch Run shot 244 in the first game to take a 41-pin lead. Ruoff answered with 237 in the second game to advance with a 440-396 victory.
“I just beared down and got some strikes going,” he said.
Ruoff defeated Caro sophomore Adam Jackson 380-350 in the semis, while top-seeded Gage Nickelson of Wyoming Kelloggsville was getting eliminated. Nickelson's qualifying run was amazing with games of 277, 207, 230, 231, 225 and 237. He topped 220 in each of his first three games in match play before games of 185, 190 and 135. Jonah Montney of Shepherd ousted Nickelson 409-325 to earn a spot in the Final against Ruoff.
Montney opened with four consecutive strikes to grab the lead, but Ruoff answered with four in a row late in the game to win the opener 216-199. Ruoff's 179 in the second game was enough to close out the championship with a 395-349 victory.
“I knew I could do it, but it was a matter of doing it,” he said. “The biggest thing I had to do was stay down in my shot. As long as I stayed down, it was flush every time. I had to fight popping up.”
Ruoff knows the house and lanes well.
“The thing with this place is each lane plays so different,” he said, “and that 's what makes this place so hard to score in. Sometimes the lanes are just like I remember bowling high school matches on here, and then another time it plays completely different.”
Ruoff's performance was not an unexpected one for his coaches.
“We were in here watching James, and we said, 'This guy is on a mission to win states this year.' He just worked hard and got it done,” Roach said.
The large Pennfield crowd had plenty to cheer about in what turned out to be an historic day for MHSAA bowling.
“I'm on top of Jupiter. I feel fantastic,” Roach said.
PHOTO: Battle Creek Pennfield’s Haley Hooper and James Ruoff stand together after sweeping this season’s Division 3 singles championships.
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.)