CANTON – It’s hard to create rivalries in bowling with how fickle the sport can be and how different teams win so often. But the Flint Kearsley and Mason girls programs have appeared to start a nice rivalry in Division 2.
Two years ago in the semifinals, Mason ended Kearsley’s six-year run as state champion en route to winning it all.
Last year, Kearsley avenged that loss, beating Mason in the championship match to reclaim the throne.
The team portion of the 2022 MHSAA Division 2 Finals turned out to be a three-peat, with Kearsley and Mason once again squaring off in the championship match.
This one ended up going to Kearsley, which rallied from a 25-pin deficit after the two Baker games to earn a 1,178-1,143 victory over the Bulldogs and claim its seventh Division 2 Finals title in eight years.
“I do know the long history between Mason and Kearsley,” said Hornets first-year head coach Kailee Tubbs as she and her team wiped away tears of joy during the celebration. “I think it’s one of those things where we really look forward every year to facing them.”
Kearsley beat Mason 850-790 in the regular game to prevail, with Lydia Boggs setting the pace with a 191. The Hornets finished first in the qualifying block and stayed hot through the final to earn a wire-to-wire victory.
“I just wanted them to stay loose,” Tubbs said. “The biggest thing was having them relax.”
Mason head coach Russ Whipple said it’s been a lot of fun establishing a rivalry with a program like Kearsley, but that it just wasn’t meant to be for his team in the regular game.
“We were right there at the end and didn’t have a couple of things fall our way,” Whipple said. “I don’t think either team scored exceptionally well that last game. It was just one of those things, and it’s how it goes.”
In the boys competition, Grand Rapids Northview won its first Finals title in what also was a wire-to-wire victory.
The Wildcats finished first out of the qualifying block and kept their rhythm throughout, earning a 1,287-1,229 win over Tecumseh in the championship match.
“We’ve made it to match play the last three years and been knocked out in the first round,” Northview head coach Harold Klukowski said. “This one is special. I brought the same exact team back from last year and the state didn’t recognize the guys. We came from unranked to No. 1.”
Just like the Kearsley girls, Northview rallied after trailing going into the regular game.
Tecumseh held an eight-pin lead after the two Baker games, but Northview won the regular game 929-863 with David Frey at 217 leading three Wildcats above 200.
“Experience and trust,” Klukowski described as the difference this year. “The guys didn’t bite, and they didn’t bicker. They listened to the coaches, and they executed. It was a grind in the Bakers. The guys struggled to find their shot early. After that, they settled in and made good shots.”
Tecumseh was making its second appearance in the championship match in four years after also finishing runner-up in 2019.
Despite coming up short of a title, there’s a lot of reason for optimism for Tecumseh with a sophomore-dominated lineup and only one senior.
“We were in the final four last year, so another step closer,” Tecumseh head coach Eric Wigner said. “We’ll just keep working at it, and hopefully next year will be our year.”
The Kearsley girls earned a 1,125-1,109 win over St. Clair Shores Lake Shore in a quarterfinal before defeating Carleton Airport in the semifinals, 1,264-1,220.
The Northview boys downed 2021 champion Dearborn Divine Child in the quarterfinals, 1,460-1,331, before earning a 1,347-1,323 win over Jackson Northwest in the semifinals.
PHOTOS (Top) The Flint Kearsley girls team huddles after repeating as Division 2 champion Friday. (Middle) The Grand Rapids Northview boys celebrate their first title. (Click for more from Champions Photography.)
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.)