Prep bowlers play to rowdy following
If there was one player bound to be unfazed by the raucous scene Oct. 1 at Incline Station, it was Jacob Hofschulte. The unflappable sophomore from Silver Bay, who grew up around bowling alleys, is one of the best high school bowlers in the state...
If there was one player bound to be unfazed by the raucous scene Oct. 1 at Incline Station, it was Jacob Hofschulte. The unflappable sophomore from Silver Bay, who grew up around bowling alleys, is one of the best high school bowlers in the state. And he has the numbers to prove it.
Hofschulte records a strike or spare on more than 93 percent of his throws, a mind-boggling tally that makes him one of the main attractions in the North East Conference of the Minnesota High School Bowling circuit.
He welcomes the attention, just as he welcomes playing in front of a boisterous crowd each Saturday.
While some bowlers feed off the energy, Hofschulte simply blocks it out.
"I like it, but I don't know that it helps," he said. "I've been to a lot of tournaments, so I'm used to it."
Given his impressive stats, it was a bit stunning when Hofschulte left a pin unharmed late in the Mariners' second match of a recent afternoon. But surprise is part of the charm of bowling -- a club sport at the high school level in Minnesota -- Superior coach Carl Mencel said.
Mencel's squad is the class of the six-team North East Conference, which includes Denfeld-Marshall, East, Hermantown-Proctor, Two Harbors and Silver Bay. The Spartans, Minnesota's defending state champs, won eight of their 10 games Oct. 1 en route to a 2-0 match record.
Led by hard-throwing lefty Masen Meyers, Superior was 6-0 as of last week. The Spartans have had plenty of reason to cheer during the season's first half, and rarely does the tight-knit team forego an opportunity to yell, bump fists or share a laugh.
"When our team's loud, we're bowling good," junior Justin Petrey said after cheering on one of Superior's junior varsity squads.
The Spartans made plenty of noise Oct. 1, but that was to be expected. Team bowling requires contributions from all five players. Utilizing the Baker System, each bowler throws two frames a game, with the anchor -- typically the strongest bowler -- responsible for the 10th and, potentially, 11th and 12th frames.
One standout, then, can't singlehandedly carry their team to victory.
"It truly is a team sport," Denfeld-Marshall coach and conference coordinator Rick Curnow said. "People think of bowling as an individual sport because that's often how it's portrayed, but not in this format."
Curnow's squad finished 1-1 that Saturday. Of the 12 Denfeld players, two are girls, with one -- Erin Reid -- serving as the Hunters' anchor.
Prior to each match, individual teams gathered for a "One, two, three!" cheer. And it wasn't uncommon for "One, two, three, Hunters!" to be overlapped or followed closely by "One, two, three, Superior!" Spectators filled the area directly behind the lanes, some watching quietly and others yelling just as loudly as the participants.
But despite the competitive nature of the event, opposing teams sharing high-fives and congratulations were common.
That, however, could change when they return to the Incline Station on Nov. 5 for the conference tournament. The winner gets an automatic berth to the state tournament.
For his part, Mencel, the longtime Superior coach who's been with the program since its inception in the late 1990s, will strive for improvement between now and early November. Like most of their competition, the Spartans practice twice weekly. If all goes according to plan, they'll hit their peak come November. At that point, Mencel will simply try to stay out of their way.
"A lot of times when I'm coaching, I don't have to say a whole lot," the coach said.
That's OK. His players and fans say plenty.