The high school bowling season kicked off last week and the reigning NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1 Group I state champion North Arlington couldn’t have asked for a more perfect beginning.
That’s because one of the Vikings, namely senior Eric McKenna, merely rolled a perfect game of 300 in the Vikings’ first match of the season against Paramus Catholic.
It marked the Vikings’ first perfect game since Johnny Santiago rolled to perfection in 1987.
That’s 31 years of bowling for one of the most storied programs in New Jersey high school bowling. It just shows how rare a perfect game truly is.
McKenna, who is also a standout soccer player in the fall and baseball player in the spring, has been honored as The Observer Athlete of the Week in the past. Just last April, McKenna started the baseball season by pitching a no-hitter against Bogota and now just eight months later, he begins the bowling season with a perfect game. That’s even more remarkable.
McKenna rolled a 256-247-300 series for the opening series of 803.
“I was just able to sit and watch the whole thing,” said North Arlington head bowling coach Dan Farinola. “He knew he wanted to have a big year and I don’t know if you could have a better start. He’s really settling in as a leader for s. He’s a lot calmer now. He’s taking his time and following through.”
McKenna is rare, considering the fact that he is a two-handed bowler. Last year, the Vikings had a handful of two-handed bowlers, but McKenna is the lone wolf this season. And there was nothing better than rolling a perfecto to begin the season.
Farinola believes that there is a correlation between McKenna’s ability as a pitcher and as a bowler. McKenna just recently signed his national letter of intent to attend Caldwell College beginning next fall.
“I think bowling is very similar to pitching,” Farinola said. “I think the two go hand in hand. It’s crazy, because he’s already locked in. He’s been really consistent. I think he’s more focused than ever before. He just goes out and does it.”
Farinola believes that a good reason for his team’s success is the level of competition within the Vikings.
“I think we have a friendly competition,” Farinola said. “They’re always trying to beat each other. And they’re always pushing each other. I think having Eric and Liam (Henkel) together gives us good balance.”
Henkel is also a fine bowler in his own right. The senior, who averaged 194 a game last year, was right around that score last week.
“He’s as consistent as it gets,” Farinola said.
Senior Trent Petito is another solid roller.
“He’s much improved,” Farinola said. “He used to just launch the ball. Now, he’s more of a bowler. He’s smarter as a bowler and smooth.”
Junior Rahul Patel is another top bowler.
“He has also improved his game,” Farinola said of Patel, who has a 160 average. “He’s more consistent.”
Freshman Peyton Esposito is also in the regular rotation.
“He has a lot of potential,” Farinola said. “He’s going to be fun to watch develop.”
Sophomore Jimmy Pizzuta is a rapidly improving bowler. Sophomores Simon Major and Emilio Arroyo and freshman Brian Kataro are also contributors to the Vikings’ cause.
Not only does Farinola coach the boys’ team, but for the very first time, North Arlington is fielding a girls’ bowling team that he will mentor.
“We started it last year, but it was more of a JV program,” Farinola said. “This year, we wanted to have them compete on the varsity level. In the past, we didn’t have the numbers to field a girls’ team, but this year, we did. I think it’s great for the school and it’s a great thing for the girls. It could be a great thing for our league.”
Farinola believes that having a girls’ bowling program might encourage some more girls to try their hand at bowling.
“I think it makes the girls feel more comfortable,” Farinola said. “I think it’s more of a team mentality.”
Junior Gianna Sammartino might have been able to scrape the boys’ roster, but now that there’s a girls’ varsity team, her 140 average is right at the top.
“I think it’s great for her that she’s able to compete with the girls every day,” Farinola said. “I think she’s been excited about us having a varsity team this year.”
Junior Samantha Baulo is another fairly consistent bowler and should be the No. 2 on the NA Lady Vikings’ roster. Sophomore Leticia Ponce has shown a lot of promise.
“She has a big hook,” Farinola said. “Every day, it’s going to get better and better.”
Word of mouth is traveling that the girls now have a varsity team to call their own at NA.
“Now that we have it, it’s just going to get better for us,” Farinola said. “I think the girls are ecstatic that we have it. They’ve been having fun.”
The teams competed in the recent Tom Irwin Invitational with 30 teams participating.
McKenna also competed in the North Jersey Singles Invitational Tournament, where he placed fourth and entered the competition as the top seed. Rolling a perfect game will do that for you.
“I think it should be a fun year,” Farinola said. “We have high goals and I think we’re going to be a tough team to face.”
Expect the Vikings to compete for yet another state sectional title in February.
The North Arlington boys’ bowling team is ready for a solid season, thanks to senior Eric McKenna (front row, center) who bowled a perfect game against Paramus Catholic last week. Front row, from left, are Rahul Patel, Emilio Arroyo, McKenna and Jimmy Pizzuta. Back row, from left, are Trent Petito, Liam Henkel, Peyton Esposito, Brian Kataro and head coach Dan Farinola. Photo by Jim Hague
For the first time ever, North Arlington is fielding a girls’ bowling team. Front row, from left, are Leticia Ponce, Maya Silva and Lila Boudissa. Back row, from left, are Breanna Ferrara, Megi Xhelo, Gianna Sammartino, Samantha Baulo and head coach Dan Farinola. Photo by Jim Hague
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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.”