Jeff Wheeler said he has a “built-in best friend for life” in his twin brother, James.
At the urging of their mother a decade ago, they learned how to bowl. They endured unspeakable loss in 2018 when Melissa Wheeler died of cancer. And they persevered through a challenging six months in 2000 when Jeff developed and beat stage 4 Burkitt lymphoma.
On Friday, for their mother, they celebrated and cried together after leading Lansing Catholic to the Division 3 boys bowling Finals championship at Jax 60 in thrilling fashion.
After staking a 39-pin lead after two Baker games against Ogemaw Heights in the Final, the Cougars shook off a sluggish start to the team game just in time to snatch away the championship by a 1,239-1,216 margin.
“We’ve been through a lot in our life, a lot of rough times and we just always try to get through it, so doing this just means the entire world to us,” James Wheeler said. “It feels great.”
The senior twin brothers provided huge strikes when Lansing Catholic needed them most, which proved to be in the 10th frame of the championship. Trailing by about 80 pins entering the final frame, James Wheeler and Jeff Wheeler both doubled, Jeff’s first strike sealing the title and sending the Cougars faithful into a frenzy.
“I knew I needed the first shot just to get me hype and the team hype,” Jeff Wheeler said. “Our mom got us into it, and we finished our senior year strong. We did it for Mom.”
Jeff Wheeler’s 199 game with seven strikes led all scorers in the final game. After five opens in the first seven frames, James Wheeler changed balls and threw four straight strikes for 164. Charlie Gates delivered 179, Ethan Wolcott struck out in the 10th for 171 and Jack Hernly’s 158 rounded out the Cougars in the final.
Danny Gassman had 198 and Derek Malone 197 for Ogemaw Heights. Colin Matheson shot 178.
Cougars coach Doug Moore lauded his team’s resilience after it missed qualifying for the Finals last year by seven pins. They advanced out of their Regional by four pins last weekend and took advantage of the opportunity by qualifying third for Friday’s match play. They won their quarterfinal handily over Yale, and then squeaked out a 23-pin victory over 2022 champion Gladwin in the semifinal.
“All day we just said, ‘This is our time,’” Moore said. “Don’t worry about them, just bowl one frame at a time and do your game. This is awesome. I think we’re all going to start bawling.”
Ogemaw Heights qualified fifth, beat Napoleon in the quarterfinals and topped eighth-seeded Chesaning in the semifinals. Chesaning pulled off the upset of the day by ousting top seed and 2021 champion Armada in the quarterfinals by 15.
On the girls side, Flint Powers Catholic earned a narrow but fulfilling victory over Ishpeming Westwood, 1,024-1,007. Junior Elizabeth Teuber delivered a clutch strike in the ninth frame of the team game to complete a three-bagger.
Four years ago, the Chargers’ lineup was only four strong — and current seniors Lauren Harrold, Libby Hagan and Olivia Tremaine were three of them. Two years ago they added Teuber and Lillee-Ann Jacobs as freshmen, and the seeds for success were planted.
That’s only partially true, actually. Coach Matthew Wheeler, a graduate of high school bowling powerhouse Flint Kearsley, cultivated those seeds when he took over at Powers five years ago.
“Everything I learned about coaching, I learned from (Kearsley coach) Rob Ploof, who calls himself the Bill Belichick of high school bowling, and I don’t argue that point at all,” Wheeler said. “My aspiration was to build a program behind his theories and drive, and it’s nice to see it rewarded. These girls worked hard.”
Flint Powers reached the Finals last year, bowing out in the semifinals. They qualified fifth this year, defeated Midland Bullock Creek in the quarterfinals, 1,024-906, and earned a spot in the championship by beating top seed Napoleon, 1,176-1,115.
In the championship, Ishpeming took a 13-pin lead after the Baker games but had no answer for Teuber, who shot 221. Jacobs added 164 and Harrold had 147.
For Teuber, it was another highlight in a bowling career already full of them. She won the Division 3 Singles Final as a freshman and was runner-up last year. She will compete for another individual title Saturday after winning her Regional, but this team title was something special.
“This is what I’ve always wanted for my team, and now that we have it, it’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “With my win freshman year, I didn’t understand it. Now that I’m a junior and I understand how big a deal it is, it is incredible that they get to experience it, too.”
Kylie Junak shot 188 and Elise Ketola had 175 for Westwood, which earned the second seed in qualifying. The Patriots defeated Boyne City and Shepherd to reach the championship.
Join Elizabeth Coon as they take a look at all of the action from the 2023 Team Bowling Finals.
Congratulations to our champions:
Division 1 Boys - Wayne Memorial
Division 1 Girls - Holt
Division 2 Boys - Flint Kearsley
Division 2 Girls - Sparta
Division 3 Boys - Lansing Catholic
Division 3 Girls - Flint Powers
Division 4 Boys - Grass Lake
Division 4 Girls - Taylor Trillium Academy