Three years ago, the Middle Country bowlers, teary-eyed, were overcome with emotion at the conclusion of the state tournament.
Three weeks ago, the Middle Country bowlers, teary-eyed, were overcome with emotion at the conclusion of the state tournament. Deja vu.
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Except this time, the medals around their necks were gold and those were tears of joy from the Cougarines of Newfield and Centereach High Schools, having capped a season that was every bit the dream.
"Back in 2010, we overachieved and got further than probably anyone would've expected," girls bowling coach Mandy Dominguez said. That year, his upstart squad pulled a series of stunners and finished second in states, 47 pins shy of a title. "But this team was more talented," Dominguez said, "and the whole season felt special."
Put it this way: The Cougarines' 6,053 pinfall this year would have beaten 2010 state champ South Colonie by nearly 500. And Melissa Sherwin, the quiet freshman back then, by now was a record-setting dynamo, her team's emotional leader and, on March 2, the center of attention at Strike N' Spare Lanes in Syracuse.
The senior bowled a 1,489 series -- breaking the state tournament record for girls and boys -- and rolled a 277 in the sixth game to secure Middle Country's first state championship.
Kelly Skalacki, in her words, "the short, weird eighth-grader" on that 2010 team, had become a superstar. She overcame hip pain in states to bowl a 1,305. Amanda Tyrrell, whose transfer to Newfield in 2011 essentially gave Middle Country bowling's Big 3, shot a 1,262.
"I felt going in that we had a chance to win, but I didn't expect it to happen like this," Sherwin said. Adding to her story is the fact that an impending surgery, a ninth to correct a club foot, threatens to end her bowling career. "The way everything played out this year," she said, "was kind of like a fairy tale."
By midseason, there looked to be the makings of a magical run for Middle Country. Skalacki and Sherwin had a chase for the Suffolk girls average record. Both surpassed the mark of 222.4, and Sherwin's 715 in the last regular-season match gave her the record with a 223.2.
And Tyrrell, an All-Long Islander last year, had upped her average to 203. Brooke Kelsey (1,057 in states) emerged as a strong No. 4, and sophomore Danielle Muszak, a first-year starter, improved by 38 pins. Seventh-grader Julie Acosta showed so much upside, Tyrrell said, "she'll be after Melissa's records" before long.
Dominguez called this "the best experience I've ever had in 30 years of coaching different sports."
The enchantment continued when the Cougarines dominated the Suffolk Tournament, dethroning two-time defending champion East Islip. And by Game 2 of the state tournament, when Middle Country pulled into first place and began to pull away from its competition, there might as well have been fairy dust sprinkled on the lanes.
"Last year, we won the all-star tournament ," Skalacki said, "and then we go back up and win the team championship and make up for 2010. That's like a dream."