By Sarah Jaeger
Special to Second Half
WATERFORD – If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
At least, that's what the Jackson Northwest girls bowling team decided to do.
After losing in the MHSAA Semifinals last year to Tecumseh and in the Quarterfinals in 2011 to Charlotte, the Mounties were looking to make it to the championship match and focusing on the things that would get them there – teamwork and communication.
"Even if we were sitting on the bench, we were all working together. We weren't putting each other down," Northwest senior Mikki Mathews said. “We were keeping our heads up."
That mentality helped Northwest win their first MHSAA championship on Friday, as it edged Ionia 1,262 to 1,221.
"I think both years getting knocked out helped us get a little push," Jackson Northwest coach Jerry Lobdell said. "It's been the same team. We're finally going to lose some seniors this year unfortunately, but it's been the same team that's been through everything."
Not only was it the first bowling championship for the school, but the first MHSAA Finals championship in any sport.
While the day ended on a sweet note, the road started off worse than expected. After the morning qualifying round, Jackson Northwest was seeded seventh.
"Starting the day off qualifying a little lower wasn't exactly fine," Lobdell said. "But you have to win three matches to do it, and that's what we did."
"We knew we weren't out of it," added Mathews.
"Today it was somebody different that had a big game. It was either Mikki or Sabrina (Yearling)," said Lobdell. “They all stepped up at different times."
The last obstacle for Northwest was Ionia, which finished 10th to just miss qualifying for match play in 2012.
Ionia just made it to the Quarterfinals this time, qualifying in the eighth and final spot.
"We were down and didn't think we we're going to make the cut at first, and ended up taking that eighth spot," Ionia assistant coach Lloyd Thurlby said. "After that, we knew we were going against number one right off the get-go, so the girls just really pulled together and today it was just awesome to watch them jell."
Ionia went on to knock out top seed Tecumseh and then number four seed Charlotte by only nine pins to earn the opportunity to bowl for the title.
"Even to be a state runner- up is something to be very proud of," Thurlby said. "We have a few girls on this team who have two Regional trophies, and now they have a state Final, so that's a pretty neat thing to take back to the school. Obviously, it's something, you want to be on the other end of it. But we can accept that. I think those are things that build a good program, so if you can learn how to lose, then you can learn how to win."
While the girls teams were playing for redemption, the boys finalists were looking to make a name for themselves.
Sturgis and Lapeer West, both making their first Finals appearances, squared off in the championship match.
But, in the end, Sturgis pulled out a victory, 1,326 to 1,154.
Like the girls, both boys teams credited teamwork and communication for helping them make it to the Finals.
"Without it we would have been lost," Sturgis senior Logan Kulpinski said.
"We fed off of each other," Lapeer West senior Tyler Skene said. "When one was down, we just kind of bounced it off each other and kept it up."
Skene's coaches agree.
"You just encourage them to talk to each other and keep each other up," West co-coach Don Bell said. "That's kind of what we went at today, trying to get them to communicate more as a team themselves, and encourage each other; don't let one guy get down and pull the team down. When one guy goes down, everybody else picks them up. One frame doesn't kill you. You've got four other bowlers behind you."
While they had each other to lean on, the first-time finalists also had to contend with its emotions.
"There's a lot of emotions," Sturgis coach Brandon Smith said. "There's a lot of games. Their emotions kept going up and down and Logan, Skylar (Robinson), they kept each other up and they kept everyone else up."
"We could see it especially in that last match when we were bowling against Sturgis," Bell said. "We were up on the Bakers 100 pins, and we got up to bowl that next game and every bowler in that first frame, you can tell they were nerved up. But Sturgis bowled a good game last game. You have to give it to them. They had the carry and we didn't."
However, it's not just bowlers who feel the pressure. Even coaches can experience some anxiety.
"I lost more hair over it this time than any," West co-coach Chuck Skene said.
Click for full girls results and full boys results.