Although the North Arlington High School boys’ bowling team had captured the NJSIAA state sectional championship twice in the prior three years, there is always a sense of doubt that comes with a new year.
“Every year is different,” said North Arlington veteran bowling coach Dan Farinola. “Things can change in the blink of an eye.”
How much can things change when it comes to New Jersey high school bowling?
Well, before this year’s state sectional tournament, there was a format change, where the competing teams all bowled in one day and total pin count was used to determine an overall champion. For the Vikings, there was a sectional change. After years of competing in North 1A at Bowler City in Hackensack, the Vikings were shifted this year to North 1B held at Lodi Lanes.
It meant different teams and different obstacles.
“We knew we had a different challenge ahead of us,” Farinola said.
The Vikings also headed into the state sectionals on a bit of a down note. Unlike last year, when the Vikings steamrolled their conference opponents, winning an ungodly 111 straight matches, the Vikings lost in the NJIC race this year, falling to rival Lyndhurst by a single game.
But when the state sectionals began Saturday, Farinola knew that he had a different team with a different mindset.
“We were laser focused,” Farinola said. “Once we knew that we were going to lose the league, everything was focused toward the states.”
So right before the state sectional championships, the Vikings closed out the regular season in impressive fashion, setting a new school record for pins against Wood-Ridge in the final match of the regular season.
“That showed me that they were focused,” Farinola said. “They were 100 percent ready. I felt like we had a good shot. I felt like we could stack up with everyone. I didn’t want them to be overconfident. I just wanted them to be prepared.”
The Vikings came out of the blocks Saturday like gangbusters.
They rolled an 849 total in the first game, the highest score in all of North Jersey Group I.
Seniors Eric McKenna (249) and Liam Henkel (188) were on fire from the start, giving the Vikings a 55-pin lead that they would not relinquish.
“The lanes were slick and were freshly oiled,” Farinola said. “But we made some adjustments and got through it. The second game, all we wanted to do was hit our marks.”
The Vikings all started to click in Game 2, rolling a total of 940, almost 100 pins more than they had in Game 1. McKenna had a 216. Henkel had a 202. Junior Trent Petito had a 182. Freshman Peyton Esposito had a 173 and junior Rahul Patel had a 167.
It meant that the Vikings had a 200-pin lead going into the third and final game, so no one was going to deny them.
For good measure, McKenna rolled a 220, Henkel had his best game of the day, posting a 234 and Patel had a 176. The Vikings rolled an 897 for a combined total of 2,686 pins. Leonia was second with 2,401, which meant that the Vikings won by an unconscionable total of 285 pins.
And North Arlington had its third state sectional title in the last four years. The Vikings never won a state sectional crown before four years ago. Now, they have three.
Needless to say, it’s a display of dominance on the lanes.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Farinola said. “We can sit back and look at it now and I never thought we would be able to achieve anything like it. We preach consistency. We have a big advantage over most by having a bowling alley in town, so we should be able to take advantage of that.”
McKenna and Henkel qualified for Friday’s individual Tournament of Champions at Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick. McKenna just missed being the state sectional medalist, finishing second by just one pin to Johan Gamo of Clifton. Henkel finished 12th overall.
The Vikings as a team moved on to Wednesday’s overall team championships, also at Carolier Lanes.
Farinola believes that the team’s competitive nature carries them.
“I think because they all compete with each other,” Farinola said. “We treat bowling as a competitive sport. The goal was always to have a team that could compete.”
Farinola said that he wanted to instill that kind of mentality in his student/athletes after watching the Lyndhurst program flourish.
“I watched Lyndhurst with former coach Mike Rizzo (now a middle school principal in Lyndhurst) and admired the way they competed,” Farinola said. “I wanted to do the same in North Arlington. We do a real good job of taking everything seriously. Even our JV (junior varsity) matches are competitive.”
Another reason for the Vikings’ success is the amount of talent. In some years, the standout bowler would be asked to carry the rest of the team. It’s not so much the case any longer.
“I think the depth in our lineup is huge,” Farinola said. “Especially in tournament play. Everyone has to chip in. Everyone has to do their job. Eric is having a great year, sure, but we need consistency from No. 2 through No. 5.”
McKenna has been a driving force, but Henkel is no slouch with a 195 average. Patel has a 160 average.
So the Vikings move on with modest goals in sight. Of course, they would love to be the No. 1 Group I program in New Jersey.
“When we’re clicking, we’re up there with anyone,” Farinola said. “That’s the mindset we need moving forward.”
So if the Vikings fall a little short of their goal, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” Farinola said. “These kids lost the entire league by two pins and came back to win it. I’m really proud of this group. For us to win back-to-back is impressive.”
And what about three state sectional titles in four years?
“Really impressive,” Farinola said.
The North Arlington boys’ bowling team won the NJSIAA North 1B state sectional championship, the program’s third state title in the last four years. From left are Liam Henkel, Peyton Esposito, Eric McKenna, Rahul Patel, Trent Petito and head coach Dan Farinola. Photo courtesy of Dan Farinola.
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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.”