By Mark Blentlinger, coach of the Schoolcraft bowling teams
It was 8 a.m. on Friday February 24th. A total of 30 teams, 17 boys’ teams and 13 girls’ teams from all around the state, were ready to compete in the Division 4, section 21 Regional Championship. Along with Schoolcraft, the other schools included were Addison, Bronson, Burr Oak, Dansville, East Jackson, Galesburg Augusta, Grass Lake, Hanover Horton, Hudson, Jackson Lumen Christi, Kalamazoo Christian, Hackett Catholic Prep, Napoleon, Niles Brandywine, Sand Creek and Vandercook Lake. All these teams had a goal to walk out with that 1st place Regional trophy and/or State qualification. Only the top three teams and the top 10 bowlers, boy and girl, advanced.
The Schoolcraft boys’ team included seniors Blake Bales, Nick Hayward, Dustin McAllister and juniors Sean Endres, Nolan Ballard, Jack Waldron and Austin Edwards. The boys started out strong in the Baker games, but as the day rolled on, the oil pattern proved to be changing way too fast for the bowlers to adjust. The boys did not finish in the top three to secure their chance at a Division 4 State Championship, but they held their heads up, did their best and finished 13th.
On the other end of the bowling alley, the girls were starting out strong and not looking back. The team consisted of seniors Megan West, Gurjot Nanhra and Toni Schimmel; juniors Chloe Baldwin, Kira Wright, and Katelynn Robertson and freshman Shelbe Bryustens. Schoolcraft Lady Eagles were ranked number three in the state, in Division 4, and took the lead throughout the six Baker games. After game two of the individual game portion of the team event, Jackson Vandercook Lake (ranked number one) took over the lead by 36 pins. Schoolcraft finished in second place, qualifying for the State Championships.
February 25th was the Individual event, starting with 94 boys competing for one of the top 10 State qualifying positions. After game four out of six, Bales approached me and asked, “What do I need to do to make it?”
“You’re in 29th right now. You need two good 200-plus games.” Blake responded in game five with a 202 to move up to the 14th position. In game six, he rolled a 221. The wait seemed forever while they added up all the scores and announced the top 10. Blake finished in 9th place, securing his position to advance to State. This is the third consecutive year that Blake will get to battle, with 60 other boys, for the State Championship.
Then it was the girls’ turn for their chance to qualify for the State Championship. Megan West started out strong and was in the top 10 until, in game 4, she struggled a bit and fell down to 13th. She had a good game 5 and moved up into 11th place. She knew she needed a strong game 6. She answered that with a nice 173 game. The 20-30 minute wait to find out if Megan had made it back into the top 10 was taking its toll. Her nerves were definitely getting the better of her.
Megan’s freshman teammate, Shelbe Bruystens, had no worries, with most of her games ranging up into the 180’s. For her first year as a high school bowler she held herself together very nicely.
When the results were finally ready, they announced the tenth, ninth and eighth place qualifiers. At this point, Megan was thinking she didn’t make it her senior year and tears began to fall. Then it came over the speaker, “Finishing in seventh place, from Schoolcraft High School, Megan West!” The smile appeared through the tears, as she walked out onto the approach to receive her medal and stand with the other girl bowlers that were advancing to State. To make the day even greater, we then heard, “In fourth place, from Schoolcraft High School, Shelbe Bryustens!” There were cheers all around!