2006-03-01 / Sports

Braves are state’s best on the bowling alleys

Manalapan boys win NJSIAA championship
BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

The 2005-06 NJSIAA State Champion Manalapan bowling team — (left to right) Adam Kirschenbaum, coach John Natoli, coach Eileen Ruszala, Chris Cherin, Mark Feldstein, Conor Lennon, Tom Dulovitz and Kyle McGrath.The 2005-06 NJSIAA State Champion Manalapan bowling team — (left to right) Adam Kirschenbaum, coach John Natoli, coach Eileen Ruszala, Chris Cherin, Mark Feldstein, Conor Lennon, Tom Dulovitz and Kyle McGrath. Conor Lennon will never forget the final throw of his high school bowling career.

“I was thinking this is my last ball in high school,” said the Manalapan senior.

It was a memorable throw for Lennon, a strike at the Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick. It became even more memorable when it turned out to be the deciding strike in Manalapan’s state championship victory on Feb. 20.

The Braves team score of 2,840, thanks to Lennon’s strike, was 10 pins better than runner-up Woodbridge, 2,830.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Lennon. “It took determination, talent and luck. It’s amazing that we did it.”

Winning the state championship was a yearlong quest for the Braves. Lennon, the only senior on the team, said the state title became the team’s goal after they placed seventh at last year’s sectional and knew that everyone was coming back for 2005-06.

“We thought we could dominate,” he said. “We were more determined this year. The state championship was always on our minds.”

Lennon and his teammates Kyle McGrath, Adam Kirschenbaum, Chris Cherin and Tom Dulovitz are all close friends. They’ve spent the last year bowling in leagues at Brunswick Country Lanes in Manalapan so that they could do just exactly what they did last week, win the state championship.

“All of our averages were better this year,” said Lennon.

Coach Eileen Ruszala said that the teams’ chemistry had a lot to do with Manalapan’s state championship triumph.

“They had an enthusiasm and spirit, and sustained it,” she said. “No matter how well they bowled individually, they were only happy if it resulted in a win. When one bowled a strike, everyone cheered.”

Manalapan captured the Shore Conference Southern Monmouth County Division and Freehold Regional District championships during the season, but it was a fourth place in the Brick Tournament that gave the team the tangible result they were looking for.

“There were 48 teams in the tournament,” said Lennon. “When we finished fourth, we knew we could step up in big situations.”

A third place in the state sectional put the Braves in the state championships for the first time. Right behind in fourth place and also qualifying for the first time was their District rival, Freehold Township.

The sectional also taught the Braves a lesson, Ruszala noted. They started off in first place after the first game, but lost momentum and finished in third.

“We learned in the sectional that you have to keep your momentum,” she said.

At the state championships, Manalapan was the team that built its momentum going from third place after the first game to second place after the second.

It was Freehold Township that the Braves trailed, 1,895-1,861, well within striking distance. The Braves carried their momentum through this time to score 974 in their final game to overtake Freehold Township’s 890.

Lennon, who as the team’s anchor throws last, said that it was Kirschenbaum who sparked the team in the final game.

“Adam had five strikes in a row and that kept us going,” said Lennon. “Then everyone started throwing strikes.”

The state title ended up resting on the right arm of Lennon in the 10th frame. He had a 2-10 split on his first ball, but managed to get the spare, and the one final ball, the last of his scholastic career. His strike would provide the team with its winning margin, but it never would have happened if he didn’t knock down the 2-10 split.

Woodbridge closed with a 1,018 game to finish second to Manalapan at 2,830, while Freehold Township slipped to third place with a 2,790

McGrath led the Braves with a three-game series of 650 that included a high game of 235. Lennon was at 591 with a 223 high. Kirschenbaum had a 568 series and a 233 high. Cherin (521) and Dulovitz (520) had high games of 197 and 192 respectively for the champions.

Manalapan started the season unranked, which Lennon said bothered the team and was an early motivating force for the team. Next year, that won’t be the case. With all but Lennon returning, the Braves will no doubt be considered one of the teams to beat when the preseason rankings come out.

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