By Jim Hague
One would never guess that the exploits of a track and field team would serve as motivation for a bowling squad.
But that’s what happened at Lyndhurst High School.
Last spring, the Lyndhurst track team had a season to remember, winning four titles, the Bergen County Relays, the Bergen County individual championships, the NJIC-Meadowlands Division title and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state crown. It was the first time in the school’s history that the track team earned all those championships.
Well, Lyndhurst bowling coach Michael Rizzo decided to use what the Golden Bears did on the track as a springboard to try to duplicate the feat on the lanes.
“I told our kids early on that our goal this year was to win the league, the county and the state sectional,” Rizzo said. “I told them that if the track team could do it, that they could win the ‘Triple Crown,’ then we could do it. It was our motivation. They had to step up when the pressure was on.”
The Golden Bears already had two-thirds of the “Triple Crown” in place, namely the league and the county titles. On Saturday, they headed to Bowler City in Hackensack for the third piece of the puzzle, the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1-A championships.
Going into the tournament, Rizzo felt like he had the team to beat. Others believed it as well.
“On paper, we were the favorites,” Rizzo said. “But I had the other coaches breaking my chops, saying that they were all bowling for second place. When you’re expected to win, you always get nervous, because something could happen. You might not have a great day. Some other team could step up and have a great day. Nothing is handed to you.”
As it turned out, the Golden Bears really didn’t bowl up to their capabilities, but they still managed to do well enough to hold off the rest of the competition.
Led by freshman Jordan Lopez’s sensational 278 high game and 675 series, the Golden Bears rolled a three-game series total of 2,853 pins, easily outperforming runner-up Becton Regional and third place New Milford for the state sectional crown.
It was the second state title for Lyndhurst in the last three years.
“We bowled a 1,017 in the first game and were up by 100 pins,” Rizzo said. “We were in good shape. After the second game, we had a 200-pin lead. At that point, we were bowling against the clock. We had a big lead, but the lanes were breaking down. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but a win is a win.”
And the youngest of the Golden Bears led the way.
Jordan Lopez began the season bowling the conventional way, as a one-handed thrower. But he then switched over to throw the ball uncharacteristically with two hands.
“It’s really become the new trend in bowling,” Rizzo said. “A lot of kids are doing it now. When Jordan first did it in practice, I thought he was fooling around, but he was serious. You can’t say anything about the success. He’s getting 212 every day, so it’s safe to say he’s mastered it.”
Lopez’s series was seventh in the entire state and he now heads to the NJSIAA individual state sectionals this week at Carolier Lanes in East Brunswick. His 278 high game, rolled in the first game of the series, was the second highest single game total for any individual.
Lopez’s older sister, Lexus Lopez, a junior, also played a big part in the success of the team. She rolled a 546 series and had a high game of 201. It’s a potent 1-2 brother/sister act that the Golden Bears have going for them. Both will head to Carolier Lanes this week to participate in the state tournament, which is quite an accomplishment, but Lexus will get to finally compete with and against fellow girls this week instead of battling with the boys.
Senior Paul Ulrich was also big. He had a 211 in the first game, the second highest game of any Lyndhurst bowler, and ended the day with a 568 series, trailing only Jordan Lopez among the Bears.
“Paul was fighting pain in his wrist, but was still out there,” Rizzo said. “He was hurting, but he still managed to focus and do well. He’s come a long way and I’m very proud of him.”
Senior Carmine Battista, the team’s leader, had a 530 series and senior Nyquan Johnson had a 534 series.
Senior John Missagia and sophomore Connor Sheldrick acted as substitutes and bowled a few frames to get in the festivities.
“It’s tough to win when you’re expected to win,” Rizzo said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
On Friday, the Golden Bears will head to the overall Group I state championships, also at Carolier Lanes.
“Right now, after the ‘Triple Crown,’ anything we get is gravy,” Rizzo said. “The top three would be nice, but I really think we have a shot to win. I’m not bragging or anything, but we have a shot.”
And if Rizzo needs help getting his team ready, he can just turn to the track team for a little touch of moral support.