Bowling team rides strength of junior class to new heights

Andrew Little | Sports Editor

Junior Ogden Nijikowski bowls during a practice as his team watches.

After three consecutive finishes as co-Greater Miami Conference champions, the Mason Comets boys bowling team has rolled ahead of the field to become the favorites to win the conference outright.

The Comets have leaned on a strong junior class that makes up eight of the ten varsity bowlers. Ogden Nijikowski, Caden Graham, and Kyle Brackenridge are entering their third season on varsity but have been joined by classmates Jake Moyer, Jack Riley, Will Hauck, Timmy Hollenback, and Aiden Hunt all in their first or second year on varsity. Senior Nate Shockey and sophomore Josh Steffen have also contributed, including a victory against Lakota East where Steffen’s 235 was the highest on the team.

Over the past three years, the trio of Brackenridge, Graham, and Nijikowski has steadily improved their scores. This season each has improved their per-game average by at least 20 pins. Teams such as Middletown and Oak Hills that have challenged Mason at the top of the GMC for the past few seasons relied heavily on their upperclassmen who have since graduated. Brackenridge said that the experience he and his teammates gained as underclassmen has given the Comets a competitive edge this season.

“We almost have an advantage over everybody else because they’re all first-year on varsity or second year on varsity, but we’ve already been on varsity for three years,” Brackenridge said. “We’re not nervous and we already know how it works.”
One of the most important skills for a bowler is to be able to read the lines on the lanes to ensure they are having the best ball delivery possible. Nijikowski said that he, Brackenridge, and Graham can rely on each other in-game due to their familiarity.

“We know each other’s lines,” Nijikowski. “We know how to feed off of each other. I can help [my teammates] because I’ve been with them so long.”

The Comets finished in a three-way-tie with Oak Hills and Middletown for the conference championship Brackenridge, Nijakowski, and Graham’s freshman year. The next year they finished as co-champions with Middletown. (As of 1/15) Both teams are undefeated and atop of the GMC standings, but the Comets are averaging over 1000 pins per game which is good for first and the conference and 120 pins above Middletown who are sixth in pins per game. Brackenridge said that the experience he and his teammates gained as underclassmen has allowed them to pull ahead of their competition this season.

“When we were freshmen we were going up against teams who were basically like all seniors, and then last year we were sophomores going up against all seniors, and now all those people have graduated,” Brackenridge said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t win outright. I don’t see anybody who can really challenge us.”

In a match, there are two games with five players bowling. The other three bowlers serve as substitutes and can replace a starter if they are having a bad round. However once a substitution has taken place, they cannot be switched back until the end of that game.

Brackenridge, Graham, Hunt, Nijikowski, and Steffen all have maintained averages of over 200 pins per game, placing them in the top 11 of the GMC. Brackenridge said that having so many talented bowlers allows the Comets to compete with teams that may have a star player.

“We probably have the best depth in the state,” Brackenridge said. “Some people may have more great bowlers than us but we have so many [good bowlers].”

The Comets’ average score is almost 50 pins higher than the second-place team in the GMC, Colerain. In a sport where scoring heavily fluctuates depending on the lane conditions and whether the bowler is having a good day or not, the Comets’ consistency is key to their status as the top team in the conference. Nijakowski said that the team leans on its depth to prevent the inconsistency that other teams undergo.

“We are not sporadic at all,” Nijikowski said. “We are very consistent. If one of us bowls bad, we’re bound to have tons of other people step up”

At the Back to School Bash tournament in Fairfield on January 8, Nijikowski and Moyer were struggling in their first game and were subbed out. Despite two of their top players having off days, Jack Riley, who holds the sixth-highest average on the team, stepped up and rolled a personal best of 234. He placed second on the team behind Aiden Hunt and ninth overall in the tournament to help lead the Comets to a third-place finish out of 28 teams competing. Riley said that coach Joe Riestenberg preaches a mentality that anyone on the team has the ability to step up when called upon, a mindset that the team has bought into.

“Our coach says the same thing at the beginning of every match and tournament,” Riley said. “He says that we’re all capable of starting and we’re all capable of bowling high scores, and that really comes out true.”

Breckenridge said he is comforted knowing that even if he is having a bad round, he has teammates that are capable of making up for it with their own scores.

“You don’t have as much pressure because you know somebody else can go in there and shoot [well],” Brackenridge said.
Several members of the team, including Nijikowski, got into competitive bowling through friendships. A student discount at a local bowling alley while in middle school gave them a chance to bond and grow as bowlers. Hollenback said that everyone on the team benefits from the bonds that they have built.

“With the help and support of teammates around you, they help you with your lines and how you throw it,” Hollenback said. “[They] make sure you put a spin on it and make sure you’ve hit your mark right. Having teammates being the same age, growing up with them, being friends for a while and correlating to a sport is just a really nice thing to have.”

Photo by Della Johnson