By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
MUSKEGON – Being the best bowling team in the city of Plymouth is saying something.
With two boys bowling teams from Plymouth reaching the elite eight of the MHSAA Division 1 Bowling Final, the city stamped itself as one of the best for bowling in the state. For the Plymouth Salem boys, adding the Division 1 title meant that not only were they the best in Plymouth this year, but the best Division 1 team in all of Michigan.
Salem claimed the Division 1 team title at Northway Lanes by defeating Saginaw Heritage 1,388-1,258 in the championship match. While Salem has reached the MHSAA Finals three of the last five seasons, this year it reached the pinnacle.
“This feels awesome,” Salem coach Kathie Hahn said. “I can’t explain it. I’m so proud of the boys. There are three schools on our ground, and two of them qualified for state, Canton High School and us. To win state was awesome to say the least.”
While Salem won by more than 100 pins in the final match against Heritage, the road was a difficult one. Salem won a dramatic quarterfinal by defeating Roseville 1,356-1,350 in a match that came down to the final frame.
Salem senior Kevin Williams picked up the deciding spare in the 10th frame to give Salem the win and send it on to the semifinals.
“This was very special,” Williams said. “I made it to state as a freshman, but things did not go so well. This year we had a great team and it was a blast. The key for us was keeping our heads up and not getting down on ourselves, and picking up spares.”
After surviving the quarterfinal match, the Wildcats then met Jackson High in the semifinals. Salem started strong and continued to bowl strong all the way through as it defeated the Vikings 1,386-1,172.
Heritage earned its way into the final match by defeating hometown Muskegon Mona Shores 1,292-1,209 in the other semifinal. Salem came out strong against Heritage and built on the lead as the match played out.
“We struggled to pick up spares all day, but in the last few matches we really started to pick them up,” said aptly named Salem senior Jimmy Bowling. “Every one of our bowlers but one shot over 200 in the final game against Heritage. We are a close team, and we are all good friends away from bowling. We are all like a family on this team.”
Steven Cadwell led Salem with a 213 game in the finale while Williams rolled a 207 and Tyler Snyder a 204.
No matter which team won it was going to be a first as neither Salem nor Heritage had won an MHSAA bowling championship before.
“It was kind of an unbelievable day,” Heritage coach Todd Hare said. “We started out bowling really well today. We had good rotations and we came out of qualifying as the number one seed. We just fell a little short in the last match.”
Derrick Norman led Heritage with a 193 in the finale while Tyler Sutt rolled a 192.
While Division 1 had a new boys champion, it saw a repeat champion on the girls side as the Davison bowling powerhouse produced a second consecutive title.
Despite losing five seniors from last year’s squad, the Cardinals re-tooled in hopes of making it back to the Finals.
“At the beginning of the season, not many people expected us to defend our state championship,” Davison coach Albert Torok said. “We lost five seniors from that team, but we had a lot of talent stepping up. We prepared ourselves all year for this. We entered tournament after tournament and progressed day after day, and all that hard work paid off.”
Davison defeated Walled Lake Central 1,347- 1,189 in the title match.
“This is 10 times better then last year,” said Heather Baur, one of three seniors on this year’s team who also were part of last year’s title win. “It’s exciting because the seniors did something that no one else had done. The biggest thing that helped us was just filling frames. Our coach tells us if you fill frames, you win games.”
Davison reached the final match by defeating Sterling Heights Stevenson 1,306- 1,224 in the semifinal and Westland John Glenn 1,256-1,178 in the quarterfinal.
“This feels awesome,” Davison senior Jennifer Phillips said. “It feels so great to win it again. I couldn’t be any more proud of my teammates. Last year after we won it, we knew we wanted to come back and try and win it again.”
Walled Lake Central defeated Macomb Dakota 1,215-1,139 in their semifinal, and Muskegon Mona Shores 1,187-1,144 in the quarter.
Brianna Palarchio rolled a 194 to lead Walled Lake Central in the Final. Sydney Brown rolled a 234 for Davison, and Brooklyn Greene added a 202.
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.)