By Tolly Taylor
Bobby Van Houghton should have been smiling. After all, the Notre Dame College Prep bowler had just thrown seven strikes in a row for the second time that day. In the final frame, he could have clunked two balls into the gutter and still finished in the top five at regionals. Instead, he rolled three strikes, averaged a Professional Bowling Association-worthy 234, led his team to a tournament win and placed second individually.
The intensely focused junior cracked a smile.
“Strikes were coming like nothing,” Van Houghton said. “Everything was going my way.”
Van Houghton was part of a 10-team regional tournament Saturday that came down to two: Notre Dame, which finished 12th in the state tournament last year, and a co-op of bowlers from Niles North and Niles West high schools. Each team bowled six games in the tournament at Classic Bowl in Morton Grove, with the winner boasting the highest pin total for all five players over six games (6,313 for Notre Dame, 6,154 for Niles).
The best four move on to sectionals, the state qualifier, Jan. 23.
Niles was on top after the second game, but then a Notre Dame coach’s pre-tournament prediction came true.
“It’s after the second game when the oil wears down,” said Bob Kostuch, co-coach of Notre Dame. “That’s when our talent should come into play.”
In all competitions, lanes are initially oiled in a Christmas tree-shaped pattern that starts wide and narrows near the pins, making it more difficult to throw strikes early on. Bowlers adjust their throws from straight to hooked as the oil wears down.
This approach better directs the 15-pound ball into the soda can-wide pocket between the front pin and the one to its right (for right handers) and to its left (for left handers). Miss this sweet spot and the 3-pound-6-ounce pins won’t fall like dominos.
Notre Dame took the lead back after the third game and never relinquished it. Like Van Houghton, sophomore Connell Kelleher finished in the top five individually.
“We kind of knew … it was going to come down to [the two teams],” said Richard Lee, co-coach of Niles. “Today, Notre Dame was the better team.”
And the better smelling team. Seven of the eight Notre Dame bowlers have balls manufactured by Storm, which offers 24 scents, including apple fritter, blueberry muffin and cherry.
Van Houghton favored his chocolate-scented Storm IQ ball over his two unscented ones. He plans to use his signature scent again next weekend.