After 23 years during which a county championship win was a close but elusive dream, the Bellmore-Merrick bowling team struck victory on Feb. 2, and is now rolling toward the state tournament.
The team nabbed the title at Garden City Lanes, edging out Hewlett’s scores of 5,803 and East Meadow’s 5,602 with a 5,899-point finish. It was the district’s first Nassau Division 1 championship since 1996, the year after coach Joseph Bianca took charge.
“It’s real now,” Bianca said at a practice on Feb. 7. “I think the team is really realizing how good they are. They had a goal and reached it. Now, anything is possible.”
“Winning county changed everything,” James Petter, a senior, said.
“It went from bowling for fun to bowling for real,” teammate Brendan Moran added with a laugh.
Team members say they believe the group is more important than individual scores. “It’s not always about the talent,” noted Nick Breidenbach, a Mepham senior. “It’s about the consistency of each player. If I mess up, I know I won’t be down because my team will pick me up.”
Bianca revealed his strategy for a balanced team. Most bowling teams, he said, retain four primary bowlers in most games, with a fifth bowler who is cycled. But Bianca rotates the entire Bellmore-Merrick team, which allows all of them to bowl at least 24 games before the county championship. The coach said the rotation keeps the bowlers “unselfish.”
“It keeps the team humble,” he said, adding that the strategy also builds team spirit. “At one point, James played one game, then said, ‘Don’t put me back in. Everyone else should bowl, too.’”
Bianca makes sure his bowlers know one key thing about the sport: It’s a head game. “It can get very competitive,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement and energy in the lanes. The key is to stay calm. If you get angry or frustrated, you won’t hit any pins.”
“You can’t let it mess with your head,” Breidenbach said, “because, on our team, we know the next guy will take care of it.”
At the county championship, the team did just that. Not once did a player roll below 90, and most hovered around — or above — 200. Team leader Sam Farber bowled an average of 216.7; Breidenbach, 201.7; Moran, 199.5; and Petter, 173.5.
The school district has recognized the team’s success. Athletic Director Eric Caballero issued team members newly designed jerseys after their conference championship win — which was decided by a single point, Bianca said. The team wore the jerseys on Feb. 2, and now, county championship jerseys are being made, Bianca said.
The team will be presented with awards at the March 6 Central High School District Board of Education meeting, Superintendent John DeTommaso said.
“It’s like we finally reached the pinnacle of being bowlers,” said Breidenbach, who graduates this year. “It’ll be amazing to go out on a high note.”
The team will compete at the New York State championships March 7-8 in Syracuse.