By Dick Hoekstra
Special for Second Half
LANSING – One was for the first time and the other for a sixth.
But the Vandercook Lake boys and girls bowling teams swept the Division 4 team championships Friday at Royal Scot Lanes.
The Jayhawks boys earned the school’s first MHSAA Finals title by keeping Sandusky from repeating as champion, 1501-1367.
The Vandercook Lake girls team captured its sixth title by keeping St. Louis from claiming its second crown in three years, 1233-1167.
The Jayhawks girls also earned MHSAA titles in 2011, 2013 and 2014 in Division 4 as well as 2009 in Division 3 and 2005 in Class C-D.
“We got a couple breaks where they didn’t in the Baker games,” said Vandercook Lake girls bowling coach Todd Reichard, whose team pulled ahead by 69 pins with 177-159 and 188-137 Baker game wins. “Then we just stayed steady with them. We tried to fill frames. It was two good teams. We just got lucky in the Bakers.”
Senior captain Ariel Robinson rolled a 211 and sophomore Mackenzie Johnson a 202 in the Final for the Jayhawks, who were seeded No. 1 after qualifying and defeated No. 8 Dryden and then No. 5 Rogers City 1239-1166 to reach the championship match.
“These young ladies just refuse to lose,” Reichard said. “I lost four seniors last year. I knew I had a lot of work with a new group this year. This is number six for me, and I tried to do it with depth, because I didn’t have a superstar. Mackenzie (sophomore and individual Regional champion Mackenzie Johnson) might be my best bowler, but everybody chipped in today. I’m still amazed how we got here.”
St. Louis emerged as the No. 2 seed after morning qualifying before defeating No. 7 seed Traverse City Christian and then No. 3 seed Schoolcraft.
The Sharks actually edged Vandercook Lake 871-868 in pins over the Peterson games as senior Emily Thelen threw a 231.
“We just had a lot of bad breaks with some nasty splits in the Baker games, and that’s what came back and got us,” St. Louis girls bowling coach Brittney Mizer said. “The girls didn’t bowl bad. They should be super proud of how they did. I know I am.”
The No. 2-seeded Sandusky boys after morning qualifying were trying to become the first repeat champion in Division 4, and seemed poised after edging No. 3 seed St. Charles 1356-1343 in a Semifinal that was a rematch of last year’s championship match.
But Vandercook Lake topped No. 4 Rogers City 1324-1127 in the other Semifinal, and then became the eighth new champion in the eight years a Division 4 tournament has been held. (There were only three divisions from 2006-2009 and just two in 2004 and 2005.)
“We bowled really well in the St. Charles match, and it felt like a state final,” Sandusky boys bowling coach Del Shea said. “It was pretty exciting. I’ve been coaching 12 years, and I don’t remember anybody defending. That’s what we were trying to do. We almost got there.”
The Redskins fired a 254 to Vandercook Lake’s 192 in the first Baker game, but the Jayhawks answered with a 290 to Sandusky’s 160 in the second Baker game to take a 68-pin lead.
“We came back, and we were only 20 pins down in the middle of that (Peterson) game,” Shea said. “We almost got it back, but we ran out of steam. Everybody bowled really well, especially our seniors Brandon Hughes, Jared Jagotka, Cody Johnston.”
Vandercook Lake boys bowling coach Libie Ambs said the Jayhawks also had to come from behind in their Semifinal with Rogers City.
“But the match with Sandusky was the toughest,” she said. “Korey Reichard bowled well all day. He shot 257 the last game. All of them bowled well. Everybody at least had one game over deuce (200).”
Ambs’ first year coaching the Jayhawks boys was 2009, when they finished as runners-up in Division 3.
“Last year, we got knocked out in the Semifinals,” she said. “This year they kind of had a mission. Korey kept them pumped after every shot, and kept them going.”
PHOTO: The Vandercook Lake girls and boys teams stand together after sweeping the Division 4 championships at Lansing’s Royal Scot.
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.)