Before a few weeks ago, the majority of students at Memorial High School didn’t know that the school had a girls bowling team. Now, so many people have expressed interest in joining the team, longtime coach Lou DeNoia isn’t sure how he’s going to pick his players for next year. The difference? Memorial’s girls defeated Kearny High School, a bowling powerhouse, in the county championship on Feb. 12 by a narrow score of 2,243 to 2,174.
It was Memorial’s first ever county championship in the underappreciated sport. They won the northern division last year, but failed to advance through the playoffs.
The five-member team now regularly wears their championship jackets during class and in Memorial’s hallways, and their peers are taking notice.
“Until we won, no one even knew we had a team,” said Ridha Farooq, a senior. “Now everyone sees us walking around and they’re like ‘Damn, I want a jacket.’”
Effort and nerve
It took an enormous amount of effort, practice and nerve to get the team to the point where they could defeat Kearny, a team that had gone 89-2 throughout the regular season.
“My girls worked really hard,” said DeNoia, who taught mathematics at Memorial until he retired after 39 years last year. “It took an enormous amount of commitment. They were all really dedicated. I never had to worry about them not coming to practice or a match.”
The team, made up of Farooq, senior and captain Amanda Santos, senior Diana Vaquiz, junior Myleida Turcios, and sophomore Brianna Duncan, overcame a tough rash of injuries throughout the season, not to mention an early deficit against Kearny in the championship match, a three game set hosted by Bowl Rite in Union City.
“It was so nerve wracking,” said Santos, whose season average of 186 pins was a county-high and ranked 17th statewide. “We were serious underdogs coming in, because no one ever heard of Memorial being good at bowling before, but we worked hard and persevered and won.”
“Until we won, no one even knew we had a team.” – Ridha Farooq
“We wanted to show Memorial that bowling is a legitimate sport,” she said, “and also we wanted to do it for our parents and coach who worked so hard to come to every game and support us.”
They also discussed what it means to be a team. Farooq, who bowled a season low 93 in the first round, said she felt responsible for what she assumed would be Memorial’s eventual downfall, but that her teammates picked her up.
“They carried me. They said it was okay and that we were still in it,” said Farooq. She took her teammate’s confidence to heart and bowled a season high 179 in the second game.
The other bowlers also turned in stellar performances, led by Santos’ high series of 574. In addition, Duncan bowled a 439, Farooq a 426, Turcios a 409, and Vaquiz a 395.
The team, which sometimes refers to itself as The A-Team because each of its players’ names ends in that letter, said it grew closer this year, after having narrowly missed a chance at the title last year.
“We really grew close this year,” said Vaquiz. “We talked about everything, but mostly we set a goal for ourselves, and that was to win county.”
The title was especially meaningful to DeNoia, who had coached bowling at Memorial for over 25 years before retiring from teaching last year. He said he was unsure of whether he’d be hired back as the bowling coach, but knew he had a solid squad and a shot at glory.
“I really have to thank the Board of Education and the Athletic Department for bringing me back, or else I’d never have won,” he said. “Now, because I won, we’ll have to see if they bring me back for next year.”
To Duncan and Turcios, there’s no question.
“He’s a great coach,” said Turcios.
The team’s three seniors plan to attend college next year. Vaquiz, who wants to be a doctor, is deciding between Fairleigh Dickinson University and William Paterson University. Farooq, who is also a star on Memorial’s softball team, plans to attend Montclair State University. Santos, however, is dreaming of bowling’s big leagues, and is waiting to hear whether she will receive an athletic scholarship from several Division I schools.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com