LANSING — All athletes make adjustments during their events, but few work out as well as the one Hanover-Horton's Kassidy Alexander made during the Division 4 girls bowling singles championship match Saturday at Royal Scot.
Alexander, a junior, was dueling with Bronson's Dakota Smith, winning by four pins in the first game. In the second game, she didn't like the way her ball was responding.
"It wasn't coming into the pocket correctly," she said. "I was leaving 10-pins everywhere."
So she consulted with her father, Arron, who also is her coach. He suggested she move one board to her right on her approach.
The move, less than an inch, paid off.
"He spotted it," Kassidy sad. "I was thinking about moving over, but I didn't want to change anything that serious."
Alexander won the second game by three pins, but needed, and got, two strikes in the 10th frame to pull out the 371-364 win.
It was the second trip to the finals for Smith, who lost in the 2019 championship match to Mackenzie Johnson of Vandercook Lake.
Alexander and Smith were familiar with each other from competition in summer leagues and again at last week's Division 4 Regional.
"Kassie respects her for how good a bowler she is and how passionate she is for the game," Arron Alexander said. "She appreciated ending the day by bowling against Dakota."
Kassidy's title was the second individual championship for the Comets, following Emma Davis' in 2015.
It's also the second MHSAA bowling title for the Alexander family. Older brother Justin was on the Hanover-Horton squad that won the Division 4 team title in 2015.
Justin wasn't able to see his sister bowl Saturday due to work obligations, but was a key supporter down the stretch.
"Through our Cascades (Conference) meet and at the Regional, he was there for her, helping her focus on her game," Arron Alexander said. "It was such a neat moment to watch them interact, being five years apart (in age). It makes for a proud dad."
Hunter Haldaman of Traverse City Christian, who won the boys title, took a different route to his championship.
He won his opening match against Unionville-Sebewaing's Ethan Androl by 49 pins. Androl won the second game, but not by enough to make a dent in a match Haldaman claimed 404-373.
"I had a strike in the first frame and had a good line going," Haldaman said. "I was confident in that shot, and it worked out from there."
In the second game, "our goal was to fill frames," coach Brent Wheat said. "We wanted to make our spares and try and match him the best we could."
Androl won the second game by 18 pins, but Haldaman had a strike in the ninth frame to put the match out of reach.
"It was a good feeling," Wheat said with a chuckle of relief. "I figured one good ball in the 10th, and we had it. But when he had a strike in the ninth, we put the pressure on (Androl) to make the shot in the end."
Haldaman, who won the Sabres' first individual bowling title, got into the sport through his grandparents, who took him and his brother bowling on a weekly basis while they were young.
"I played soccer in elementary school," he said. "I didn't have a passion for it, but I have a passion for bowling."
Like Alexander, Haldaman worked on his game between his sophomore and junior years, learning the mental aspect of the game as well as fundamentals like reading lane conditions.
Although he was leading overall throughout the second game, Haldaman didn't think he had the title sewn up until the 10th frame.
"You notice the lead, but that could change at any point in time," he said. "I was just taking it shot by shot, frame by frame. That's the way to do it."
And, for both, that resulted in a Division 4 Finals title and motivation for next year, when they're both seniors.
"I would love to come back as a senior," Haldaman said.
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.)