Natalie Mavrich caught herself looking for her former coach a few times on Tuesday.
The East Islip senior would then remember that Harold C. Cooley Jr. — the man who started the school’s girls bowling program in 1985 — was no longer around. Cooley, who guided EI to 27 league titles, 13 county championships and three state crowns during his storied tenure, passed away on Dec. 18, 2020.
"He would always stand right in the middle [of the aisle]," Mavrich said with tears in her eyes. "He would never sit."
Full of emotions, both happy and sad, East Islip competed in their first match of the season — and first since their mentor’s passing. East Islip defeated Comsewogue, 36-4, in a Suffolk League III contest at Port Jeff Bowl.
Eighth-grader Dakota Collins rolled a 248 in Game 3 of a 651 series, and freshman Kailyn Bloch added a 235 in Game 3 of a 622 series to lead a deep and talented East Islip squad. It was their 117th straight win, and East Islip is now 247-1-1 since midway through the 2001 season, according to Newsday records.
"There’s been a lot of emotions, but the girls have made this whole process easier with how they’ve been," first-year coach Robert Sconone said.
East Islip started slow in the first game, but pulled out a win, 883-836. The team followed suit in Game 2 with another uninspired opening, yet rallied again for a 1,034-936 victory behind a 237 high-game from senior Mia Lembo. EI rolled well from start to finish in a convincing 1,037-810 effort in Game 3. Laura Clark led Comsewogue with a 241 in Game 2 of a 626 series.
"I tried to bring a positive energy for everybody," said Lembo, who had a 601 series. "I wanted to be as supportive as [coach Cooley] would have been . . . but it’s not the same."
That sentiment was felt by both teams.
"He’s one of the all-time greats," Comsewogue coach Bo Frimmer said about Cooley. "It’s truly a great loss to girls bowling, and truly a great loss to many of us, personally."
Sconone is well attuned to bowling on Long Island and to East Islip girls bowling. The 26-year-old played football and lacrosse at East Islip. His father, Bob, was a longtime boys bowling coach at Patchogue-Medford, who was close friends and grew up across the street from Cooley.
"You still feel his presence," Sconone said "I have so much respect for coach Cooley and the program he established here at EI."
It won’t be easy for Sconone and East Islip this season, but the team plans on taking each match as it comes. They chanted, "Bowl for Cooley," before each game Tuesday. Mavrich asked that one of Cooley’s mottos: "Bring It In," be printed on the back of their bowling shirts.
So what does it mean to her?
"Pick it up," she said. "Even if you’re having a bad game, don’t give up."
She reflected on what her former coach would have thought about Tuesday.
"I know he’d be proud of us," she said. "He’d be telling us the whole bus ride home, how good we did."