Niagara-Wheatfield has already won a championship. Now the Falcons hope their season winds up being one for the books.
No boys bowling team has ever achieved perfection for a season in the Niagara Frontier League. The league historically is one of the toughest to win because it’s extremely rich in talent.
But Niagara-Wheatfield has caught everyone’s interest in league circles, much in the same way a bowler two strikes away from a 300 captures the attention of everyone in the alley.
The Falcons clinched their fourth straight NFL championship last Thursday with a win over North Tonawanda. They’re 12-0 with two matches still to play – both of them slated for next week at Kenmore West (next Tuesday) and at home against Grand Island (Feb. 4). Two more wins and they make history.
“It’s tough,” N-W coach John Boutet said. “It’s like a mine field,” the league. “If it happens this year, great, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to go to states.”
The only way that can happen is if the Falcons win the overall Section VI title Feb. 13 at Thurway Lanes. A talented lineup anchored by freshman Nate Maloney (225.69 average) and senior captain Collin Kitcho (215.44) looks to dethrone defending champion Frontier, which is unbeaten in ECIC Large South and has star-studded lineup of its own.
Before those schools and the rest of the contenders meet at sectionals though, N-W must complete its pursuit of history.
“We’ve had some great bowlers through the years but this is probably the best overall team for pure top six bowlers,” Boutet said. “It’s just a well-balanced lineup and you need that.”
It’s an experienced lineup, too, as most members of the league seem to be going through turnover – with younger talent getting acclimated to the competitiveness of the NFL.
“We just happened to peak at the right time,” Boutet said. “We just happen to be a little more experienced than the other teams.”
The Falcons also happen to have three of the top six leaders in average in the league in their lineup. Maloney has the top average in the NFL, Kitcho is third and sophomore Austin McKinstray sixth with a 205.18.
N-W’s final three starters, seniors Brian Churpita (198.65 avg.), Dan Ball (195.16) and Sam Mattheus (193.41), all rank among the top 13 in NFL averages. Niagara Falls is the only other NFL team with more than one bowler in the top 13 – Michael Blackburn (198.80) and Nathan Fink (194.52).
“There’s always a chance a team can beat you,” Boutet said.
Elsewhere in the league, Kyle Behr’s 845 three-game series is the second highest in Western New York over the last eight years, but he’s currently sidelined by a broken wrist. NT hopes to have the junior back for the Section VI Tournament. The Lumberjacks (9-3) are 2-1 in his absence.
NFL girls down to wire
Who’s going to win the girls championship in the NFL?
Either North Tonawanda (11-1) or Niagara Falls (10-1).
Those teams meet Feb. 4 at Rapids Bowling Center in Niagara Falls in a clash that will likely determine the league champion. Falls, which has a makeup match Wednesday against Lockport, already has a win over NT this season.
Niagara Falls, the 2012 state champion, has plenty of talent on hand – including sophomore Angela Gabriele, who is in her fourth season and leads the league with a 204.91 average.
The Wolverines have three of the top five leaders as the other top stars include senior Hailey Johnson (196.39) and sophomore Luxsurie Sistrunk (193.47). Johnson, the niece of professional Liz Johnson, has the highest series in Western New York (737).
North Tonawanda counters with Cassidy Powers, the defending Section VI champion, who averages 191.89. She tends to be clutch when it matters, too, as she set the school record with a 1,389 six-game series in taking the sectional title. Abbey Kieffer follows with a 188.89.
N-W’s Marissa Staschak ranks second in the league with a 200 average. Alexis Wade has a 199.15 for Lewiston-Porter.
More chasing perfection
Niagara-Wheatfield’s boys team isn’t the only division champion and sectional title contender playing for a bonus.
Cheektowaga’s boys, last year’s Section VI Class B champion and overall tournament runner-up, clinched the ECIC North Small Division crown with last Friday’s comeback win over last year’s division champion Tonawanda and Monday’s win over Alden. The Warriors (10-0), who have won at least a share of three of the last four division titles, are two wins from running the table.
Senior Connor LaJoy, who recently rolled his first 300 game in scholastic competition, has a 217.96 average and was part of last year’s All-Section team that took second at states.
“He got a taste for it” last year, coach Dan Kaplan said. “But I think not only does he want to go, but he wants the team to go with him,” this time.
“Connor is going to go down as one of our best bowlers we’ve had at Cheektowaga,” Kaplan said.
Dana Voytovich has been a pleasant addition to the Warriors, who earlier this season won the Maryvale Tournament. Voytovich, a senior, has a 216.47 average in his first season. He missed last year with a broken arm and played hockey during the winter before that. Kurt Thurnherr has a 780 set.
Frontier is looking to post its fourth straight unbeaten season in ECIC South Large and can clinch its 14th straight division title with its next victory.
Besides Chad Mee (234) and Matt Kinn (217) — who has rolled a 300 game — Bryan Carson (204) and Justin Thomas (201) start for a Falcons crew that took fifth at states last year. All are seniors except for Carson, who’s a junior. In fact, Frontier has six seniors among its starting eight bowlers.
The Falcons took second at the Festival of Lights Tournament with Oswego earning the tourney title last month. Frontier also placed second in a tournament in Rochester two weeks ago, finishing 21 pins behind winner Greece-Athena.
“Hopefully at sectionals, we put it all together,” Falcons coach John Cordier said.
Kinn was just one of five boys from the country to earn Dexter All-America honors. In order to receive the well-rounded honor, he had to be nominated by his coach, write an essay, fill out an extensive resume along with having the proper bowling average and grade-point average (at least a 3.0) and participate in community-service activities.
Clarence, which placed fifth at sectionals last year, is 8-0 in ECIC North Large. In order to secure its first division title since 2004, it will need to survive a four-match gauntlet Feb. 3-6 against a pair of one-loss outfits in Williamsville North and defending division champion Sweet Home. The Red Devils think they can make a run at the sectional title and surprised many with last year’s sectional showing.
Junior co-captain Tanner Geiger rolled a 789 series last week, the highest by a Clarence bowler during coach Ken Duke’s 11 seasons. Senior John Yambor averages 205.58, while Nick Sehl averages 196, an increase of 20 pins from last year. Justin Sokolowski has a 247 game to credit.
Sweet Home, which is coached by Kathy McDonald – daughter of Frank and Doris Coburn — relies on toughness and depth as it has eight bowlers who are very competitive and similar in ability. Case in point — when the Panthers handed North its loss, the Spartans took the A-group games but Sweet Home’s first four stayed close enough so that when its B-group beat North the two squads combined to have the total pins edge in the match to secure the final point of that 4-3 triumph.
North’s Collin Hunt leads Large North with a 219.93 average.
Pioneer is 8-0 in ECIC Small South as its top two rank in the top five of averages in the division in Nate Tackentien (199.79) and Brad Arnold (196.71).
Sweet Home still hungry
Defending Section VI girls champion Sweet Home returns most members of last year’s team that finished eighth at states.
The 9-0 Panthers’ starting four has increased its averages as well. Junior Diamond Carter averages 201.48 – an increase of 10 pins. Senior Alyssa Davis is also up 10 pins, now at 177, while junior Taylor Falzone is up four pins to 180. Sophomore Breanna Gerner made the biggest jump, from 150 to 176.
Nikki Merrifield is a big-stage performer as evidenced by her performance in sectionals last year. She helped Sweet Home win its first title by averaging more than 200 over six tournament games after averaging 162 during the season.
“The girls are pretty confident,” coach Jim Russo said. “They’ve got the confidence that they’re better this year. We’ve got higher averages across the board.”
Williamsville South can’t be counted out simply because the Billies have one of the best female bowlers in WNY in Haley Carroll. The junior carries a 213.39 average and last week shot a 720 series – tops among all competitors in the four ECIC divisions and third highest in the area to Niagara Falls’ Johnson and Niagara-Wheatfield’s Staschak (734).
Carroll, Wade and Powers are all back from last year’s All-Section team that placed first in states.
Sara Snyder of Depew won the Division 3 title at last Sunday’s Western New York Regional Queens Touranment and has boosted her average from 175 to 191. Teammate Sarah Godfrey has boosted her average by 20 –now up to 189.
St. Joe’s bowler sets mark
St. Joe’s and Canisius each share first place in the Monsignor Martin Association among the boys, but are being closely pursued by St. Francis, which is just one game back.
St. Joe’s returns everyone who helped the squad win last year’s Roy Sommer Invitational, including senior Kevin Bienko. He averages 212, has a 299 high game and set the league record with an 823 series. He’s the only bowler in MMA history to eclipse 800.
The Maruaders’ Kevin Zitka has a 197 average, which ranks fourth in the league.
Canisius is led by Aaron Fiust-Klink with a 196, while Nick Rallo has a 195 average.
Brandon Kane of Timon-St. Jude ranks second with a 199 average, while St. Francis’ David Kroll is third at 198.
The All-Catholic Tournament is Feb. 6 at Thruway Lanes.
Immaculata clinched the regular-season title for the Monsignor Martin girls and also had the league MVP in Kasey Schulz. She finished with the top average (178.9), series (663) and high game (236).
Schultz headlines the first team All-Catholic selections. The others include Megan Mazurkiewicz of Buffalo Seminary (177.5), Cardinal O’Hara’s Taylor Reese (175,4) and Lexi Greenauer of Mount St. Mary (174.3).
Second-team picks included: Molly Marciniak (Immaculata), Susan Thomas (Mount Mercy), Sara Riso (Mount Mercy) and Alyssa Yebernetsky (St. Mary’s).
The season ends next Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. with the All-Catholic Tournament at Thruway Lanes.