By Jon Malavolti
Special for Second Half
STERLING HEIGHTS – Macomb Dakota’s girls ended Davison’s MHSAA title streak, while Wayne Memorial’s boys topped Saginaw Heritage in their Division 1 Bowling Final on Friday at Sunnybrook Lanes.
Davison was looking to become the first school to win four straight MHSAA team bowling titles. But Dakota had other plans when the squads met in the Final.
The Cardinals took a two-pin lead following the pair of Baker games to open the match, but the Cougars took over from there, filling up the frames with strikes and spares.
“We were completely determined,” said Dakota’s Sierra Stade, one of five seniors who bowled in the Final. “We came in here saying we want to win this, it’s our last year, and we did. To finally win was amazing.”
Led by sophomore Hannah Forton’s 228 and Stade’s 222, the Cougars won 1,321-1,228, avenging last year’s loss in the MHSAA Semifinals to Davison.
“You can see at the end, they fired back, Hannah and Sierra shot those awesome games to keep us on fire,” Dakota coach Kevin Wemyss said. “How do you put it into words? It’s awesome. All in all, they bowled great all day.”
The title is the program’s first.
“It’s really exciting, I’m really happy,” Forton said. “We did really good in the last game.”
While it was a bittersweet end of the run for Davison, Cardinals coach Tracey Greene was proud of how far the squad got this season.
“Actually, I didn’t know if we’d get to the Finals,” he said, noting the team’s overall youth. “They’ve been working hard all year to get to where they got, but it wasn’t quite enough in that last game. Dakota … they had a good start and we just could never catch them. Hopefully we’ll get back here again next year.”
The team’s lone senior, Brooklyn Greene, a member of the previous three championship teams, also was impressed with the team’s effort.
“I think getting second was awesome. I didn’t really expect to get this far,” she said. “I’m so proud of them.”
In the Boys Final, Wayne Memorial coach Bob Jawor said his bowlers “never quit.”
“We were down a couple of times, and they bounced back. They never stopped trying,” he said. “They fought hard all year. I’m really happy for them because they deserve it. I’m really proud of them.”
Junior Conner Weber led the way for the Zebras with a 231 in the final game, helping them top Heritage 1,281-1,229.
“It’s honestly mind blowing, it’s crazy,” he said about winning the title. This is one thing I’ve always been wanting, especially the team … it’s big. It really brings it home. This team started from the bottom, and we got there, we got on top.”
Heritage coach Todd Hare believed his bowlers gave it their all during the long day of intense competition.
“We bowled really well most of the day,” he said.
The coach noted that the Hawks “turned it up a notch” late in qualifying before making their run. “And then we just couldn’t quite get it rolling,” he added.
The Finals appearance was the second in three years for the Hawks, as Hare noted it was the end of an impressive era for his five seniors.
The title is Wayne Memorial’s first, after the Zebras lost in the 2009 Final.
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.)