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Can Niagara-Wheatfield bowler Maloney get even better?

2015 State representative: Kenmore East (finished fourth).

2015 Section VI champions: Sweet Home (Class A), Kenmore East (B), Tonawanda (C) and Salamanca (D).

2015 Section VI All-Section Team (underclassmen): Nate Maloney (Niagara Wheatfield) and Andy Barckhalter (West Seneca West).

2016 Playoffs: Section VI tournament will be on Feb. 10 at Airport Lanes in Cheektowaga. State tournament will be in the same location on March 5-6.

Who’s good? It might be fun to watch to see how good Maloney can be in the next two years. The junior was the top boys bowler at sectionals last spring. He’s been bowling for scholastic teams since the seventh grade, and he bloomed last year. Maloney helped Section VI finish second in the state competition. Teammate Austin McKinstray was second in the Niagara Frontier League in average in early-season play.

Among the teams, Cheektowaga and Frontier took some hits from graduation, but always seem to be competitive. Lancaster and Orchard Park may spend some time beating each other up in Class A. Tonawanda has a chance to defend its Sectional title.

In the Monsignor Martin Association, St. Francis, O’Hara and Canisius have all gotten off to great starts this season. St. Francis is led by Christian Prechtl, who came out averaging 226.

Mergers: A rash of teams have come together for the current season. In both boys and girls bowling, Portville and Olean are rolling with Allegany-Limestone; Sherman and Panama have teamed up with Clymer; Westfield will bowl with Brocton; and Hindsdale will combine with Cuba-Rushford of Section V. (West Seneca East and West girls also will merge this winter.) Each class has 18 teams.

No road trips: Syracuse traditionally is the hub for the state bowling competition, but the event will move to Cheektowaga for 2016. There’s a little good news and a little bad news in that shift.

Western New York bowlers will have the advantage of knowing the lanes and sleeping in their own beds for the competition. That’s in contrast from their opponents, some of whom will be taking a long bus ride from Long Island to bowl. However, the Buffalo-area bowlers always enjoy the chance to travel together, which means staying in a hotel and having meals with friends. As for administrators, their job shifts from chaperoning the local bowlers during a road trip to serving as the host for the event, which is a fairly big job.

How is the sport doing? Bowling fans know all about the way lanes are closing in this part of the country. That’s had an effect on the sport at a high school level.

For example, with the closing of Thruway Lanes, the team from Cheektowaga Central has been forced to join Maryvale and Cleveland Hill at Airport Lanes. That causes some scheduling difficulties, since the schools must work with the lanes on getting available times to bowl.

While some teams like Cheektowaga still have to cut bowlers before the season starts, others are scrambling to fill spots. There is talk about reducing the number of bowlers per team in matches at some point soon to compensate.

Who will be Prep Talk Player of the Year? Maloney won it last spring, and has to be considered the favorite. Even so, the area usually develops good bowlers each year. He’s sure to face some good tests along the way.