This season is last season and last season is this season for the Michigan City boys bowling team as the state finals approach on Saturday.
At least that’s the impression you get from some of the bowlers after they finished fourth in last week’s Merrillville Semistate to punch a ticket for Pro Bowl West in Fort Wayne — the location of the final step toward earning that huge Indiana High School Bowling championship trophy.
You see, last year was supposed to be the year for the Wolves with three talented seniors and the majority of the current squad.
“We thought we would make it to state last year with (graduated seniors) Michael Hebb, Aaron Skibinski and Jalen (Stockley),” said current senior Dean Lykins, whose parents will sub for him on his morning News-Dispatch delivery route on Saturday morning before heading east to watch their son bowl. “But we’ve come together more this year, picking each other up.”
He’s not the only City bowler or coach that has expressed those sentiments to me. And they’re right. The talent was more abundant last year. But the best team doesn’t always win — or advance in the state bowling tournament, in this case.
City assistant coach Sam Welch was a senior on the 2015 squad that was also very talented and had the state finals set in its sights after reaching the semistate. It wasn’t meant to be, but he might be just as happy that this team has reached heights he dreamt about.
“There’s always that thought, ‘I wish we could have done this,’ but I’m definitely pumped for these guys,” he said. “Heck, I might just cry if we win.”
Anchor bowler Lucas Grams will be rooting for another team while trying to help his team reach the stepladder final. The senior is dating Alyssa McCall, a junior on Chesterton’s girls team that, like City, is returning to the state finals after a long hiatus.
The Wolves last made it this far in 2010, when they won it all. They also reached the finals in 2005. The Trojans’ only other appearance in the girls state finals was 2002 when they lost in the championship match to Huntington North.
“I’m super excited,” McCall said. “Just a little disappointed I won’t be able to watch him.”
Well, actually, she could if both teams reached their respective televised championship matches. The girls bowl the final match first while the boys wait.
City head coach Chase Coleman was part of that 2010 championship squad. He was one of the emotional leaders on that team and he admitted his emotions are all over the place as Saturday approaches.
“I’m excited, but I’m also kind of scared,” he said. “These boys’ hopes are so high. I’m proud of them and you get this close. You just want to finish the goal.”
Coleman’s emotions could rise a little more with a pseudo reunion of the 2010 champs on Saturday. According to Coleman, among his former teammates confirming they’ll be in Fort Wayne to support the alma mater are 2010 coach Brian Schwanke, his son and calming influence Taylor Schwanke (“Yeah, right … Taylor was never calm,” Coleman responded when I sarcastically used ‘calm’ to describe Taylor), the team’s lefty Jacob Bowman and anchor Jacob Grams.
“All of us do different things, so we don’t get the chance to have a reunion like this,” Coleman said.
Now if only someone from the administrations or a teacher or school board member from Michigan City and Chesterton could make it to Fort Wayne to support a sport that rarely gets any love.
Sure, it’s not sanctioned, but that shouldn’t matter. I’m sure the debate team or cheerleading squad — which isn’t a sanctioned sport, either — would get more love than bowling from the higher-ups at a school.
“People in school don’t care about bowling, but I’m still talking about it and looking for us to get some recognition,” City senior Braxton Hervey said. “It’s been a motivation factor for us. People will tell me bowling is just a hobby, but this is a tough sport that you need to work hard to succeed in.”
Hopefully if the Wolves or Trojans — or any other Northwest Indiana school — succeeds at Saturday’s state finals (Portage girls and boys, Lake Central girls and Highland girls also qualified), their school will honor the teams the same way as any other state champion.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.