By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After winning the NJSIAA North 1A, Group I state sectional bowling title two weeks ago, the school’s third in the last four years, Lyndhurst head bowling coach Michael Rizzo liked his team’s chances heading into last Friday’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions at Carolier Lanes in New Brunswick.
“To be honest, I had a better feeling this year than the others,” Rizzo said. “We might have had a better team last year, but with this team’s numbers, I thought we had a chance to come in the top three.”
Rizzo’s team did one even better. They finished in the top two.
The Golden Bears finished second overall among Group I schools in the state.
“We finished third last year and second this year,” Rizzo said. “It’s a major accomplishment.”
And it’s an even bigger accomplishment, considering the Golden Bears have only one senior on the roster, namely Lexus Lopez, who spent her entire career competing with and against the boys and will head off to Fairleigh Dickinson University in the fall to begin her career as a collegiate bowler.
“Lexus finished her career off with a great series, going 202-201-234 (637),” Rizzo said. “It was really a great way for her to go out. She’s been with us for the last four years and it’s no coincidence that the team won three state sectional titles with her. It’s great to see her go off on a high note.”
Lexus’ younger brother, sophomore Jordan, who rolled a 300 game en route to winning the Bergen County individual championship a few weeks ago, finished his season with a 665 series, rolling a 221-223-221, showing impeccable consistency.
“He was like that all year,” Rizzo said. “He had very few games where he shot under 200. He didn’t hit his stride early, but for the last three weeks, he’s been on fire.”
So much so that the younger Lopez lifted his seasonal average from 206 to 215.
“After winning the county, he just stayed hot,” Rizzo said.
Junior Mike Dul was also a consistent performer for the Golden Bears.
“He was our lead-off bowler,” Rizzo said. “He averaged 180 for the season and had a 552 series at the state tournament. He really set the pace for us.” Rizzo likes the way Dul performs. “He’s really not emotional at all,” Rizzo said. “In fact, he showed no emotion at the tournament. I kept joking with him to calm down. He never shows emotion. That was an ongoing joke all season.”
Junior Massimo Saracino, who was with the junior varsity squad for most of the season, rolled a 563 at the state tournament with a 229 high game.
“That was his high game ever,” Rizzo said. “At this tournament, we needed a fifth bowler, so Mass earned that spot and he came through with his best showing ever.”
Sophomore Emily Young was the fifth Lyndhurst competitor. She rolled a 185 in her first game at the state tournament to contribute. There aren’t a lot of top bowling programs in New Jersey that feature two girls bowling regularly with the boys, but Lyndhurst certainly holds that distinction.
Sophomores Mike Hayes and Rich Fawires were the other two Golden Bear bowlers to make the trip to the states.
While the day might have represented an end to an era, as Lexus Lopez moves on, the rest of the team all returns.
“I told the kids on the bus home that although we’re going to lose Lexus, that if they could all improve by 10-to-15 pins on their average for next year, that we could do this again,” Rizzo said. “I really think it’s possible.”
However, it’s going to be hard to top this run that featured a team county and state sectional champ, an individual county champ and a second-place finish among all Group I schools in the state.
“It really was a great year,” Rizzo said. “If someone told me that we could finish second in the state before the season, then I would have gladly taken it. We exceeded all expectations. It was another tremendous year for Lyndhurst bowling.”