By Jon Malavolti
Special for Second Half
STERLING HEIGHTS – Redemption was the theme at Saturday’s MHSAA Division 1 Bowling Singles Final competition at Sunnybrook Lanes.
Ann Arbor Huron senior Allison Morris capped off her career the same way she started it – as the MHSAA champion. For boys title winner Derrick Norman, it was all about putting the past behind him, as the Saginaw Heritage senior previously had come up just shy of winning; he was a quarterfinalist in last year’s individual tournament, and twice finished as a runner-up as a member of his team – this year and in 2013.
Morris edged Canton sophomore Meghan Macunovich 512-470 in their championship match. The Huron senior jumped out to an early lead thanks to bowling 10 straight strikes in the first game, finishing with a 286-213 advantage.
“Once I started stringing strikes together, it was just kind of ‘Keep doing it,’” Morris said.
She nearly needed every pin, as Macunovich came storming back in the second game, which she won 257-226.
“It was huge because you saw how she game out of the gates the second game, so it gave me a good advantage,” Morris said of her early lead.
While the pair exchanged strikes, they also shared the occasional congratulatory gesture, as they are friends off the lanes.
“Meghan is one of my really good friends, so we were just trying to have fun,” Morris said. But she added that it can be “tough to play someone you know,” a sentiment shared by Macunovich.
“Our coaches teach us, even if you’re friends with a person, act like you don’t know them,” the Canton sophomore said. “That’s what got her through. And then when I started bowling like I should, the second game, that’s what I was doing.”
Macunovich realized her rally should have come sooner to keep up with her friend, but was pleased overall with her result, and for Morris.
“I started striking too late. I just didn’t do it soon enough,” she said. “I am happy about it. I’m happy for her too.”
And she knows it’s an experience she can build on.
“I’m really confident coming off of this,” Macunovich said. “I wasn’t necessary expecting even to make the cut. I was just glad to make it. The fact that I ran it through and made it, I’m feeling pretty good.”
Morris felt pretty good too, accomplishing the goal she’s set out to match for the past three seasons.
“My freshman year, I was kinda just going in for fun,” she said. “I tried to bowl my best, and ended up winning. Sophomore year, I felt a lot of pressure going into it, I was kind of in my sophomore slump, I guess, I didn’t really have a good season.
“Junior year I made states, was trying to win, made top 16. So ever since my freshman year, everyone’s been telling me you have to go in and go out the same way, so that’s just what I was trying to do this year, was finish the way I started.”
The boys competition was a little tenser at the end, with Norman eventually edging Macomb L’Anse Creuse North junior Kyle Hayes 488-469.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m blessed. It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Norman said, just 24 hours after the Hawks’ senior-laden squad fell just short of the title in the Team Final.
“You win some, you lose some,” he added. “Today was just a new day. I just put yesterday behind me.”
Heritage coach Todd Hare said he was “a little concerned” how his bowlers would handle the quick turnaround amidst the tough competition.
“We had four guys bowling today. I thought maybe they’d run out of gas,” he said.
But it wasn’t the physical toll that made a difference on the day, although it wasn’t easy. Yet, his coach said, it was Norman’s focus that allowed him to rise to the top this time.
“He’s worked really hard at staying focused; nothing rattles him,” Hare said. “He bowled well last year, but I think that’s the difference this year – it’s all mental at this point. It’s just, you know, a testament to all the work he puts in. He works so hard at his game.”
Norman said before today’s competition he focused on making this a “business trip” to bring the title home.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Just to win it all, that’s what I came here to do.”
But before he was crowned champion, he had to fend off a fierce competitor in Hayes, who won the first game 244-224.
Norman said his plan was to match whatever Hayes did: “If he left something, to strike.”
And strike he did. Norman started, and then later finished, the second game with five consecutive strikes to win 264-225 and clinch the title.
“Just an amazing ride,” Norman reflected.
Hayes said there was “really no room for errors” and that the Final would be decided by “who missed first.”
“And I ended up having that one opening in the second (game) that ended up costing the whole match,” he said. “It just proves how consistent you have to be to be a champion.”
As for Hayes, he also hopes he can build from the experience, especially after missing the cut for the knockout rounds of the Finals last year by nine pins.
“I’m pretty happy about it,” he said of his finish. “It’s a big improvement over last year. This year I just came in wanting to make the cut at states. I didn’t even care where I finished, so coming in second, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
“It leaves room for improvement, something else to accomplish,” Hayes continued. “I’ll savor it now and work harder in the summer, so that I’m first next year.”