By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – James Ruoff and Haley Hooper starred in plenty of roles Saturday afternoon during the Division 3 singles bowling championships at M-66 Bowl.
They were comeback kids, winning MHSAA titles after Ruoff qualified as the No. 15 seed and Hooper made it as the No. 16 seed.
They were giant-killers. Hooper began her championship run by knocking off top-seeded Kendra Grandy of Birch Run – on Grandy's 18th birthday – while Ruoff knocked off No. 2 seed Adrian Hall of Corunna in the first round of match play.
And they were record-setters. Ruoff and Hooper, both sophomores at Battle Creek Pennfield, became the first boys and girls singles bowling champions from the same school in the same year in any division. And they did it on their home lanes.
It was quite a weekend for Pennfield, as the boys won the team title Friday and Ruoff and Hooper stole the show Saturday. Airport Lanes in Jackson has hosted Division 3 recently but had to give it up this year because the USBC men's state tournament is being held there, so M-66 Bowl stepped in.
“It's special for us, and it's great for M-66,” Pennfield coach Mike Roach said. “We had more people here, and they stayed longer to support the team if their son or daughter was done bowling, so that's great, and M-66 did a great job this weekend.”
So did the Pennfield bowling teams.
Ruoff won his title first Saturday afternoon, throwing the focus on Hooper, who was bowling at the opposite end of M-66 Bowl. Hooper had won her first game against Grand Rapids South Christian senior Hannah Bergstrom 187-159, and she closed it out with a 212 finish for a 399-325 victory.
“It was tough, but it's unforgettable,” Hooper said. “I was discouraged coming in. I normally don't bowl better on my home lanes, and I had a rough day Friday in team, and then I started off rough in singles.”
She started the six-game qualifying session with a 149, and she averaged 177 over her next five games to slip into the 16-player match-play field by three pins with a 1,034 total. As the games piled up, Hooper's wrist began to ache, so she found a distraction.
“I was singing a song to distract myself from thinking about my wrist hurting,” she said. “It was Beyonce, and the song was ‘Halo.’”
It worked. Hooper went into match play and knocked off the top-seeded Grandy 334-321. In the semis, Grand Rapids South Christian senior Tori Gaskell won the first game by 13 pins, but Hooper rallied with a 205 to advance with a 383-361 victory.
“That took a lot,” she said. “But being behind after the first game really gave me that extra motivation.”
Hooper had a lead throughout the championship match. After winning the first game 187-159, she fired a 212 for her 74-pin victory to complete the Pennfield sweep.
“I've seen it year after year where No. 1 seeds rarely win,” Roach said. “You've already put all your effort in, and once you get in, it's all a level field.
“It's who is going to make that quality shot and pick up that spare. And it's what are you going to do after you miss a spare, because everybody misses a spare, and Haley strikes nine out of 10 times after she misses a spare.”
Ruoff, who bowled anchor for Pennfield as it won the team title Friday, had a similar challenge. He averaged 180 for his first two games in qualifying before running off games of 195, 201, 213 and 179 for a 1,148 total – just 11 pins ahead of the bowler who finished in the 17th spot.
“I knew I needed to make a big push,” Ruoff said. “My Game 5 was good, and Game 6 I got on a pair that I couldn't carry, and I ended up going to that for one of my matches and ended up doing pretty well on it.”
In the first round of match play, Ruoff shot 245 in his first game and overwhelmed second-seeded Hall 416-313.
“I knew I was going to go against the two seed, but I went in last year as the third seed and got kicked out in the first round, so I knew I needed to do the same thing,” Ruoff said.
The tables turned on Ruoff in the Quarterfinals as Chad Birchmeier of Birch Run shot 244 in the first game to take a 41-pin lead. Ruoff answered with 237 in the second game to advance with a 440-396 victory.
“I just beared down and got some strikes going,” he said.
Ruoff defeated Caro sophomore Adam Jackson 380-350 in the semis, while top-seeded Gage Nickelson of Wyoming Kelloggsville was getting eliminated. Nickelson's qualifying run was amazing with games of 277, 207, 230, 231, 225 and 237. He topped 220 in each of his first three games in match play before games of 185, 190 and 135. Jonah Montney of Shepherd ousted Nickelson 409-325 to earn a spot in the Final against Ruoff.
Montney opened with four consecutive strikes to grab the lead, but Ruoff answered with four in a row late in the game to win the opener 216-199. Ruoff's 179 in the second game was enough to close out the championship with a 395-349 victory.
“I knew I could do it, but it was a matter of doing it,” he said. “The biggest thing I had to do was stay down in my shot. As long as I stayed down, it was flush every time. I had to fight popping up.”
Ruoff knows the house and lanes well.
“The thing with this place is each lane plays so different,” he said, “and that 's what makes this place so hard to score in. Sometimes the lanes are just like I remember bowling high school matches on here, and then another time it plays completely different.”
Ruoff's performance was not an unexpected one for his coaches.
“We were in here watching James, and we said, 'This guy is on a mission to win states this year.' He just worked hard and got it done,” Roach said.
The large Pennfield crowd had plenty to cheer about in what turned out to be an historic day for MHSAA bowling.
“I'm on top of Jupiter. I feel fantastic,” Roach said.
PHOTO: Battle Creek Pennfield’s Haley Hooper and James Ruoff stand together after sweeping this season’s Division 3 singles championships.