LI's top bowling rivals are striking up close friendships

This Newsday composite shows Division's Brandon Soedarmasto, left,

This Newsday composite shows Division's Brandon Soedarmasto, left, and East Meadow's Jeffrey Juarez, right. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan, Barry Sloan

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Jeffrey Juarez checked his cellphone and was greeted with the update he knew was coming. Oh, I almost shot a 300 game, the text said. I got the front nine.

Don't tell me how you finish off, Juarez replied.


I shot a 300, the text said. You got it? he asked.


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No. I got a 279 in that game. I shot a 300 in the next one.

"I was like, 'Oh, well, then. I guess you won," Juarez said, laughing.

The previous was a retelling of the grueling end to one of the closest races in Nassau bowling this year -- the fight for the top season average in the county between Juarez, an East Meadow senior who finished with a 234.2, and one of his close friends, Division's Brandon Soedarmasto, who took the top spot with a 236.3.

While other sports tend to encourage enmity between opponents, bowling -- specifically the tight-knit, technologically tied-in high school scene -- engenders a very different sort of competition. It's a world where everyone knows everyone, said Division coach Brian Maloney, also a soccer coach, "and it's a different environment. It's very out of the ordinary, where you have guys directly going against each other but they're also friends . . . They go out to eat together, on weekends they bowl together."

And oh, do they text. And Facebook. And Instagram. And tweet. That's none the more evident than with Juarez and Soedarmasto, who all but grew up on the lanes together competing in tournaments. "He used to be my inspiration," Soedarmasto said of Juarez. "My inspiration was to beat him, and I never did."

Until this season, though Juarez proudly proclaimed that he actually helped him. Before Soedarmasto's final match, "I gave him my motto!" he said. "I was debating, I really like this, and he keeps telling me good luck and I hope you beat me, and I'm like ugh, I'm just going to tell him: Bowl like you wanna win and not like you're afraid to lose. I motivated him to beat me."

In reality, the duo checked on each other consistently in matches during the season, Maloney said, and it hardly ended there. Juarez is friends with Suffolk high average holder Nick Caruana of Sachem East, and keeps tabs on him, too.

"And it goes further than just them," Maloney said. "It's the entire community. You'll see the Farmingdale guy practicing with Sewanhaka. And you'll see the Sewanhaka girls talking to the East Meadow guys. The Island Trees girls, they're the Division boys' girlfriends."

Part of the camaraderie has to do with mutual respect, Juarez said. "I don't really like if people get cocky, but if they do well, you have to respect them," he said. "If you're not doing well, it's on you."

That means that when Soedarmasto beat him, Juarez was all too willing to take to Facebook and congratulate his friend. It also means he's still willing to drive Soedarmasto and Division teammate Chris Reilly to the bowling alley and to Chipotle afterward.

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Well, most of the time.

"They can walk to the Nassau championships," Juarez said jokingly.

And though his East Meadow team eventually did beat out Division and everyone else to make the state tournament on March 1 and 2, both Soedarmasto and Reilly earned spots on the Nassau All-Star team.

Because they'll all be at Babylon Lanes, there'll be no need for cellphones. This time, it'll be the alley that's buzzing.

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