ISHPEMING - High school bowling in the Upper Peninsula stresses the team aspect of the sport so much that some of the competition uses five members of a team to come up with single-game scores.
But on the next two Saturdays, the boys and girls get to act like the pros and bowl just for themselves at the U.P. singles finals.
Of course, there will be school pride when any of them does well, like Kaytlynne Carlson did last year. The Ishpeming-Negaunee bowler, a sophomore at the time, won four straight matches to capture the U.P. girls title after barely making the 16-bowler cut out of qualifying.
This year, the boys go first, bowling at 11 a.m. Saturday at Country Lanes in Ishpeming. The girls travel the following Saturday to The Dome Lanes in Marinette, Wis., home for nearby Menominee.
A slight format change has added a sense of urgency this year. In the past, everyone bowled six games of qualifying across 12 lanes, with the field cut to the top 16 for match play that determined the winner.
This year, everybody bowls the first three games, but only the top half continues for another three games to complete the qualifying round. As before, the top 16 scorers continue onto match play.
"I'm not sure Kaytlynne would've made it if we were using this year's format," I-N coach Steve Windahl said. "She had a 205 the last game of qualifying that jumped her about 60 or 70 pins from where she had been the game before."
The other tough part was the marathon grind. By the time Carlson finished, she had bowled 14 games in one day. But she had the right attitude to not only survive, but thrive under the pressure as she made it to the championship round.
"I wasn't really focusing on this being the final match," Kaytlynne said at the time. "I was just trying to see it as another game."
Things are looking good for her this year, too, as she ended the nine-week regular season with the conference's highest girls average of 177.
Several of her teammates also made match play in the U.P. finals last year, including sophomores Kaylee O'Connor and Kassy Harsila, both among the top 10 averages in the UPBC this year, and senior Ann Alanen.
The boys had even better numbers last year, with six boys making the match-play cut, four of them back as juniors this year - Matt Kilberg, Tyler Windahl, Kirk Guckenberg and Austin Wilkins. Each had top-10 conference averages, too.
While nobody currently on Marquette's three teams made the match-play cut last year, coach Hope Virch said one boy did two years ago as a sophomore - her son, Andrew Virch, who had a top-10 average this year. Junior girl teammate Hannah Crampton was also a top-10 finisher.
"It's definitely a different atmosphere," Hope Virch said about singles. "Some of them put more pressure on themselves."
Coach Barrie Rae of Westwood said these tournaments are a good tune-up for the U.P. team finals in Iron Mountain on Feb. 16 and the MHSAA regionals downstate on Feb. 22-23.
"We've talked all about them, how this will be the first time they shift lanes after each game and if you do well, you'll be bowling six games straight," Rae said.
While this is the third year for the Patriots' girls team, who had a top-10 average in junior Amanda Prophet, it's the inaugural campaign for the WHS boys.
And L'Anse coach Cheryl Dingeldey is excited to see if any of her boys and girls can make the first cut, something that's only happened a few times for the Purple Hornets, though one time was last year when senior Brianna Mayo qualified 15th. Her status is uncertain this year as she's recovering from injury.
"The great thing about our conference is that you get to bowl everywhere," she said. "Because you're with bowlers from other teams in the singles, this is when the camaraderie you've built comes through more. It's a great way to build new friendships."
Her group this weekend includes junior Freddy Dakota, who will attempt to make match play after missing last year by less than 30 pins.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.