Lyndhurst, NA earn NJSIAA state bowling titles

They might be fierce neighboring rivals in most sports and even share a working co-operative in wrestling, but Lyndhurst and North Arlington now share another distinction this season _ NJSIAA state sectional bowling championships.

For Lyndhurst, winning a state sectional title is nothing new. The Golden Bears, who captured the overall state bowling Tournament of Champions last year as the No. 1 team in the entire state, won their fifth straight state sectional trophy.

The Golden Bears won the North 2, Group II title this year after winning the previous four in the Group I classification.

For North Arlington, the Vikings captured the North 2, Group I championship. It was the school’s first-ever state bowling title. It was also the school’s first state title of any kind since the girls’ volleyball team won the Group I crown in 2004.

Needless to say, it’s reason to have a great sense of pride in the local bowling teams. Only 16 teams statewide claimed state sectional titles _ and two of those 16 are schools that geographically border each other. It’s pretty remarkable.

Brianna Balkin has been the head coach of the Lyndhurst bowling team for two years and she’s already earned two state titles.

The Golden Bears were devastated by graduation, but it didn’t mean that the team lowered their expectations.

“Our expectations were the same as last year,” Balkin said. “We wanted to repeat as league champs and we did that.”

In fact, the Golden Bears have now won 85 matches in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference, dating back to 2011.

“We lost three of the top kids in the state, but our JV (junior varsity) team was very good last year,” Balkin said. “That team had a lot of talent, so those kids just moved right in. Still, you never know how well they’re going to do on the varsity level. We didn’t even know our starting lineup before the first match.”

The first game of the season, the Bears lost by almost 100 pins, but they showed their resiliency by winning the next three games and rolled through the regular season into the state playoffs.

“Our toughest match of the year was against North Arlington,” Balkin said. “One of our goals was winning the state sectional in a new group with basically a new team. Our biggest obstacle was getting to know how good we were and beating North Arlington early in the season helped.”

In the state sectionals, junior Ryan Donohue was the top gun for the Golden Bears, scoring a 613 series and a 214 high game. Donohue is the lone holdover from last year’s state champion.

Junior Tyla D’Andrea, Donohue’s cousin, was the Bears’ No. 2 bowler. D’Andrea rolled a 625 series and a 250 high game, enabling her to qualify for the individual state championships.

Junior James Podolski rolled a 551 series at the state sectionals. Podolski was on the JV squad last year and made the step up this year.

“He’s a power player,” Balkin said of Podolski. “He throws the ball hard. He’s a good athlete.”

Junior Naomi Ramos is the second female on the team, which is nothing new with the Lyndhurst program. Ramos, who is also a member of the girls’ volleyball team, rolled a 543 series at the state sectionals.

Sophomore Pablo Maldonado is the fifth member of the starting five. Maldonado rolled a 560 at the state sectionals, aiding in the cause.

The Golden Bears easily outdistanced runner-up Mahwah, 2,830 to 2,672.

“Ryan is the superstar of the team and everyone tries to reach Ryan,” Balkin said of Donohue. “He’s the core of the team and everything revolves around him. We know what we’re going to get from him. He’s the calming factor. He’s going to do what he has to do and the rest seem to follow. He makes his spares and keeps us moving. He won a bunch of games for us.”

North Arlington had a nail biter in its state sectional also at Bowler City in Hackensack, defeating runner-up Hasbrouck Heights by just 25 pins, 2,735 to 2,710.

“It was very close,” North Arlington head coach Dan Farinola said. “We were losing by three pins after the eighth frame, then had all five of our bowlers get strikes in the ninth frame to win it.”

The Vikings, who previously won the Bergen County Groups 1&2 team title three weeks ago, set a goal to win the state sectional title.

“We have a good group of guys,” Farinola said. “We don’t have that one outstanding bowler, but five guys who all pick each other up. We definitely went there with the idea of winning. We’re comfortable there.”

Senior Louie Davio was the top Viking, rolling a 602 series and a 213 high game. Davio was only a 167 average bowler during the regular season.

Mike Barbosa, a senior, bowled a 568 series and a 202 high game. Senior Tom Ferrie had a 560 series and a 210 high game. Kenny Bennett, a sophomore, rolled a 506 series and a 209 high game. Sophomore Matt Zarro had a 499 series and a 170 high game.

“Winning this means a lot to the program,” Farinola said. “These kids are program kids and have been loyal to our program. It’s just a sign of what we’ve been trying to build. A lot of people didn’t think much of us, but we were able to do it. It was a total team effort.”

“It was a big accomplishment for us,” Balkin said. “To win the league and the state sectional again was huge. I knew we were capable of it, but I’m a little shocked with how much we won by. No one believed in us besides ourselves. People were saying that we would never be able to do it again because of the talent we lost.”

Balkin was ecstatic for her neighbors to the south.

“I’m really happy for North Arlington,” Balkin said. “They finally got one. They had a really great season. They’re friends of ours.”

As well as all good neighbors should be friends. Lyndhurst and North Arlington is setting an example on the lanes as everyone should do in their daily lives.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”