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BOWLING: It's 'everyone in the pool' for Woodhaven team (PHOTOS)
Members of the girls’ and boys’ varsity bowling teams at Woodhaven High School are shown. Seated are Marissa Strickland (left), Erika Crowley, Dana Warren, Savannah Edwards, Lauren Collins and Ashley Coghill. Kneeling are Elizabeth Slane (left), Ciara Rowell, Yousef Safah, Justin Underwood, Serena Belanger and Rachel Smith. Standing are Dustin Underwood (left), Michael Lucas, Austin Vonlinsowe, Cody White, Coach Justin Krolak, Connor Thimmes, Matt Miller and Tommy Valentic. Not shown are Courtney Cislo and Lyric Wiegand.
Krolak, a teacher at Brownstown Middle School and a football coach for 17 years, has bowled for much of his life. When he’s not teaching and coaching football, he bowls in night leagues, averaging between 210 and 220.
He learned early on that the way to build a successful football program is to create a feeder system. Younger players learn the sport and the system. Junior varsity players eventually feed the varsity team.
He said the theory also transfers to bowling. This year, there are nine boys and 12 girls in the Warriors’ varsity bowling program – perhaps the largest team in school history.
“I wanted to try and change it up a little bit,” Krolak said. “I want a team that is getting better. If you start as freshmen and sophomores, by the time you’re seniors, you’re leading the team.
“For me to cut four girls instead of keeping them and practicing with them every day, it would defeat the purpose of trying to take this team to another level. It’s allowing us to recycle players instead of starting from new every year.”
With just three boys and four girls back from last year’s “very good team,” the team was in a rebuilding phase. Only five of the 12 girls had any bowling experience, so Krolak and his volunteer assistant coach – his dad Bill – have been able to start from scratch. (By the way, Bill Krolak has more than 60 years of bowling experience and has carried a 200-or-better average since the mid-1960s.)
“I have been able to teach them the right way,” Krolak said. “Instead of breaking bad habits, I can teach them good habits and make it a lot easier on them and myself.”
Through the first eight matches of the season, the girls are 4-4 and right in the middle of the combined Downriver League/Western Wayne Athletic Conference.
Junior anchor Serena Belanger – an experienced bowler in her first year of high school competition – leads the team with a 175 average. A former basketball player, Belanger has won 10 of a possible 13 points in head-to-head matches to lead the team.
Senior Dana Warren is the top returner from last season. The daughter of PBA bowler Chris Warren, Dana is the lead-off bowler and continues to improve. With four games left in the regular season, her average is 150.
Fellow 12th-graders Lyric Wiegand and Courtney Cislo are also in the starting lineup. Wiegand is averaging 138 and Cislo is at 116. They have combined for 10 points out of a possible 16.
Sophomore Elizabeth Slane may be the most-improved starter on the team. A 109 bowler a year ago, Slane improved to 140 after Bill Krolak broke down her approach and delivery.
Erika Crowley may be the most-improved freshman. She was averaging 98 when she switched from a conventional grip to a fingertip grip, which allows for more turn on a ball. She bowled a 135 in the Wayne County high school tournament and has upped her league average to 120.
The six sophomores are all new to bowling this year. They’re led by Rachel Smith, who is averaging 128, and Ciara Rowell, who is at 113. Rounding out the team are Ashley Coghill, Lauren Collins, Savannah Edwards and Marissa Strickland.
Krolak is just as excited about the potential of the Woodhaven boys’ team, led by senior anchor Michael Lucas, who is averaging 192.
Lucas and sophomores Matt Miller (190 average) and Dustin Underwood (178) have combined for 30 of a possible 41 points in head-to-head games very opponents. Miller’s average is up about 30 pins from a year ago.
Freshman Conner Thimmes (173) and sophomore lefty Tommy Valentic (160) round out the top five averages on the team.
Juniors Austin Vonlinsowe (152) and Yousef Safah (149) have shown improvement. Senior Cody White and junior Justin Underwood (Dustin’s cousin) round out the team.
Krolak said all of the bowlers will earn varsity letters.
“I’ve played them all,” the coach said. “I’m encouraged. I’ve seen so much improvement from each and every one of my bowlers. Everybody is getting a chance.
“I want them to try to get better every day and succeed at the end of the year. And the kids can leave with a nice memory of winning a regional tournament or, better yet, winning states.”
Lucas said the boys team is working hard and improving. Lucas missed qualifying for the team state finals last year by 10 pins and the year before by 26 pins, so he has his eyes on the regional tournament.
Warren said she, too, is looking forward to post-season bowling.
“If I’m going to be leaving, I have to leave a mark somehow,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll go farther than last year. We really have a lot of potential.
“Bowling is a lot of fun and a lot of hard work goes into it. You have to be on top of your game, no question about it. You’ve got to be focused. Honestly, that’s what it’s all about.”
Woodhaven senior Michael Lucas said that when Justin Krolak was his teacher in the sixth and seventh grades, he had “no idea” his teacher was a bowler.
What Lucas didn’t know is that Krolak had been bowling since he was 7 years old when he learned the sport at Flat Rock Lanes, where current Flat Rock High School Coach Eric Painter was one of his coaches and a bowling teammate of Krolak’s dad, Bill.
“They have a great program here,” Krolak said. “Eric’s mom ran the leagues all those years. Most Huron League coaches I know because I’ve bowled with them or my dad bowled with them.”
Krolak attended Carlson High School. As a junior, he placed fifth in the Youth Bowling Association of Michigan state tournament.
Krolak also played quarterback on the Carlson football team and earned a spot as a walk-on player at Saginaw Valley State University. After he hurt his knee, he transferred to Western Michigan University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
While a student at Western, he began coaching football at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo. One of his players was T.J. Duckett, who went on to play at Michigan State University and become a first-round draft pick in the National Football League.
After college, Krolak was hired to teach in the Woodhaven schools and began bowling with his dad.
After a year coaching at Erie-Mason, Krolak began coaching football in the Woodhaven school system, accepting roles at every level from freshman to varsity. He is currently the offensive coordinator on the junior varsity football team and baseball coach of the seventh-grade team at Brownstown Middle School.
Krolak joined Painter in instructing youth bowlers at Flat Rock Lanes, where 9-year-old daughter Jenna and 5-year-old daughter Hannah bowl. That motivated him to seek the bowling coaching position at Woodhaven High.
As a coach, Krolak said, he tries to make athletes “better people and help them in life in general.”
“It’s not about winning and losing as much as I’m trying to help these kids enjoy the sport,” Krolak said. “Bowling is a lifelong sport that you never have to give up. You can bowl until you’re in your 90s.”
Last Updated: 2/8/2013 2:56:08 PM EST