Add the NJSIAA state sectional title to NA’s bowling champs

Before the high school bowling season began in earnest in December, North Arlington High School head coach Dan Farinola put a list of goals in the heads of his team.

Farinola wanted the Vikings to win the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference championship, the small schools’ division of the Bergen County championships and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1A, Group I title.

It was asking a lot, but Farinola knew that he had the makings of a dominant group.

“It is a lot,” Farinola admitted. “And we were never looking past anyone. We didn’t want to get too excited. We set high goals for this team.

The Vikings had already achieved the first two steps in Farinola’s plan, capturing the league and county titles, before heading to the NJSIAA state sectional tourney last week at Bowler City in Hackensack.

In the league, the Vikings were undefeated, posting an obscene record of 112-0.

“You can’t get more consistent than that,” Farinola laughed. “They didn’t drop a single game all year.”

Early on, things weren’t exactly going in the Vikings’ favor. They trailed Leonia by almost 200 pins after the first game.

“Leonia got off to a good start,” Farinola explained. “We were down 170 pins after the first game and 107 after the second. But we kept focus. We knew we could come back. It was the first time this year that we had to come from behind. We bowled the best game of the season.

Kenny Bennett is a senior who was part of the NA team that captured the school’s first-ever state sectional title in 2016. Bennett wanted to be able to experience the joy of a state sectional title one more time.

“We were definitely focused,” Bennett said. “We just had to go for it.”
Bennett was certainly at the top of his game. Bennett, who has adopted the unconventional approach of bowling with two hands instead of the more traditional one-handed style, knew that this was his last chance to experience a state title.

“Honestly, I was tremendously nervous,” Bennett said.

Bennett simply went out and rolled 10 straight strikes to start the final game.

“I was really focused on getting the 300 (a perfect game,” Bennett said. “This was the closest I ever got.”
Bennett left a few pins standing, but still ended with a score of 283, which was the impetus of the Vikings storming past Leonia to capture the state sectional championship.
Bennett’s 283 was the high game of the entire state tournament.

Bennett is not the only Viking bowler to implement the two-handed approach. Senior Brandon Barth and junior Eric McKenna are also two-handed bowlers. It’s a style that is becoming more and more popular with younger bowlers. The traditionalists hate the idea, but you can’t argue with the success.

“More and more, you see kids going two-handed now,” Farinola said.

Bennett said that he never bowled with two hands until two years ago, when he watched teammate Luis Davio tackle the lanes with two hands.

“I tried it with two hands and just excelled with it,” Bennett said. “I will never go back to bowling one-handed.”

The Vikings’ trio of non-traditionalists is doing quite well.

McKenna has been the Vikings’ top bowler all season, posting a 198 average. McKenna is one of the best athletes in the school, if not the very best. He’s a well respected soccer player, earning All-NJIC honors in the fall and is also a standout baseball player in the spring. Baseball remains McKenna’s favorite sport, but he won’t argue with the success he’s enjoyed with the other two sports.

“I think I want to do better in the sport than I did the previous season,” McKenna said. “I knew I had a good soccer season, so that means I wanted to do better in bowling and now I’ll want to do better in baseball. I definitely appreciate having my teammates pick me up and they know I’m there for them. It works both ways.”

McKenna didn’t have a great day at the state sectionals, but Bennett more than made up for it. McKenna had a 583 series, a little below his seasonal average.

“He gutted his way through it,” Farinola said. “He brings that sense of competitiveness to the team that we need.

Barth had a 677 series, which was good for seventh place overall among all Group I bowlers. He, along with Bennett, will get the chance to compete in the individual Group I state championships at Bowlero Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick Wednesday. Barth also had a high game of 245.

“I think on any given game, any one of our bowlers could be the high scorer,” Farinola said. “They’re all that close. It’s a nice luxury to have. We’re solid one through five.”

Barth is also a two-sport athlete. He plays centerfield for the Vikings in the spring.

Bennett ended up with a 640 series with his high game of 283.

“Kenny is our clutch guy to come up in big spots,” Farinola said. “He’s one of those guys that can go on a great run. When he’s rolling well, he can go on a streak like that.”

Junior Liam Henkel had a 220 high game and a 559 series. Sophomore Trent Petito had a 213 high game and a 517 series. It was definitely a day to remember.

The Vikings will now try to capture the overall Group I state championship at Carolier Lanes on Monday, then Bennett and Barth will return Wednesday for the individual championships in the Tournament of Champions.

“We’re definitely a contender,” Farinola said of the Vikings, who will challenge front-runner Matawan for the Group I title. “I feel pretty confident that we can do it. I think we can be competitive with anybody.”

McKenna agrees.

“I think we have a good shot,” McKenna said. “We know what we can do.”

“We definitely have the mindset to make a little history,” Bennett said. “I’m so impressed with what this team has accomplished. It’s been so much fun to do what we’ve done. It’s a little humbling that we won the state sectional again. But we have the confidence to take this a little further this time. We just have to stay focused and keep rolling well.”

And apparently, keep two hands on the ball.


North Arlington won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1A, Group I state championship last week at Bowler City in Hackensack. From left are Liam Henkel, Kenny Bennett, Brandon Barth, Eric McKenna, Trent Petito and head coach Dan Farinola. Photo courtesy of Dan Farinola

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
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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.”