With a 202 average and a 300 game on his resume, bowling must be Tom Gioia's best sport. The Timon-St. Jude junior may beg to differ as football beckons, in particular kicking.
Last fall he kicked a 38-yarder at Randolph. In the offseason he trains in indoor facilities in Rochester and Buffalo. There he consistently hits 50-yarders.
"That's his biggest dream, but his bowling is unbelievable," said Monsignor Martin Association chairman Al Simmons.
Gioia is so passionate about kicking he did not play lacrosse last spring. Instead, he focused on attending kicking camps.
The pressure of needing to strike or needing to make that kick doesn't bother Gioia. "If the game's on the line, you're the one it comes down to. You're going to be the one to make-or-break the game," he said.
Elsewhere around the Monsignor Martin Association, St. Joe's sophomore Kevin Bianko was called up to the varsity late last year and has thrived ever since. His 212.2 average is just ahead of Reed Pepe of Timon-St. Jude for the league lead. St. Joe's coach Al Simmons said Bianko was the only JV bowler in St. Joe's history to carry a 200 average. The Marauders are in first place in the MMA with a 35-4 record with two matches remaining.
The league is excited about hosting the Catholic State Championships on March 3 at AMF Thruway Lanes. The event rotates between Buffalo, Long Island and New York City. The all-individual championship includes 24 bowlers. They'll bowl a four-game block with the top five moving into a step-ladder.
>Champ improves with age
Eric Michalski is the defending Section VI champion, but that didn't stop coach Jason Beckman from saying, "He's having his best year so far, average-wise there's been no letdown from that."
The Amherst senior finished last season with an ECIC average of 206.26. He's up by almost 15 pins this year, 222.9, tops in all of the ECIC. Beckman credits the improvement to Michalski bowling better at his home house, Airport, and consistency in picking up spares. He rolled a 300 early this season at Transit Lanes against Williamsville East.
"A kid at his talent level there's not a whole lot of things he needs to change with his mechanics," said Beckman. "Those are sound. He needs to work on more of the mental game and making adjustments when you need to, and staying ahead of the lanes as the lanes break down."
Sophomore Chad Mee of Frontier takes being a smart bowler to a new level. The high honors student, with a penchant for math, can calculate where his team stands at any point in a match.
"His math skills are incredible. He'll tell me how many pins we're up after two games, and decides it in his head like it's nothing," said coach Bob Clendening. "He's like a computer. He'll say, 'We're up by 117,' and I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' "
The latest numbers are in and Mee leads ECIC I with a 220.9 average. In his first match of the season, he rolled a 299 to highlight a 774 set. He's got the Falcons positioned to win ECIC I, as they are 10-0 with two matches left. Frontier has either won or shared the title in each of the last 11 years.
Clendening has known Mee's parents for years through bowling and golf. He remembers the day they asked him to watch their son, who was in sixth grade at the time, roll the ball. "He was turning the ball over better than most of the kids who were on my team and his hand position was fantastic," he said.
>Between the lanes
Niagara-Wheatfield is closing in on the Niagara Frontier League title with a 10-1 record with the loss to Lockport. Senior captain Matt Passero is a vocal leader who backs it up with second-highest average in the league at 220. In two years, he's brought his average up by approximately 37 pins. The Falcons have a big match with Niagara Falls today at Bowl-O-Drome and Kenmore East on Thursday at Rapids.
After a 0-3 start, Niagara Falls has fought back to 7-4, winning seven of its last eight. In his nine matches, Steve Conklin's league-leading 229 average includes a 300 game on Jan. 5 at Bowl-O-Drome. He also owns the league high series (775) with his lowest series a 644.
"On the lanes he does everything he supposed to, everything you would want," said coach Ed Ventry. "He's a natural, raw talent."
Richie Maslen and Justin White are also key contributors.
The Wolverines were runners-up to Oswego at the Festival of Lights, so they feel they will be among the contenders at sectionals.
With no seniors in the lineup, Cheektowaga (8-0) has clinched its second consecutive ECIC III title. The Warriors were sectional runners-up. The team is led by sophomore Connor Lajoy, who was high average in the division last year as a freshman and is second in division (213.6) behind Chris Gable (220.8) of Lackawanna.
Gable, the Steelers' senior captain, is also ranked in the top five in high series (705) and high game (269). This is his sixth year on the team. Lackawanna freshman Gene Olivieri currently has the high set in ECIC III at 728.
Clarence junior Dom D'Angelo is averaging 206 and trying to repeat as a Section VI state qualifier. Red Devils coach Ken Duke has been busy grooming five players who have never bowled competitively.
Also back from the All-Section team are: Zak Kuzara of JFK, Mee of Frontier, Michalski of Amherst, Peter Wozniak of North Tonawanda and senior Bryan Shaver of South Park.
Wozniak was section runner-up last year behind Michalski and was the section's top bowler at states. He started this year setting a school record in the Niagara Frontier League kickoff tournament with games of 279, 257 and 289 for an 825 series.
Eden's only league loss (7-1) is to defending section champion Tonawanda. Andrew Herbert leads ECIC IV in average at 214.1. Bryce Turri and Adam Cwynar are trying to inch closer to top five status in the division.
Junior Chris Krueger, top five in ECIC I with a 207.6 average, leads a fairly deep Lancaster team that also counts on senior Alex Madera and junior Ben Oship.
Longtime Lancaster coach Milt Miner has retired after 38 seasons and was succeeded by Rich Winiatowski. Miner taught at the school for 28 years before retiring in 1995. Among his career highlights was Kevin Rygg and Jacob Smaczniak rolling back-to-back 300 games on consecutive days in 2009.
ECIC I newcomer Sweet Home is 5-4 led by junior Cody Johnson, who is averaging 209.8 with three 700 series. He and junior Chris Stonish share the high game for the Panthers at 268. Johnson holds the school record for high average with a 216.5. Ryan Allen and Doug Corner are having big senior years.
Hutch-Tech leads the Buffalo Public Schools with a 23-3 record as junior William Nguyen had a 185 average. South Park's 20-4 record includes a win over Tech. Denzel Lloyd carries the Sparks.
Williamsville North freshman Collin Hunt has a 300 game to his credit and an average (210.2) that is second highest in ECIC I.
>Charting the season
Sat. Sommer Memorial at Thruway
Feb. 7 Girls NFL Finals at Manor
Feb. 9 Boys NFL Finals at Manor
Feb. 9 All-Catholics at Thruway
Feb. 13 ECIC boys rolloffs at Thruway
Feb. 14: ECIC girls rolloffs Thruway
Feb. 16 Boys Sectionals at Thruway
Feb. 17 Girls Sectionals at Thruway
March 3 Catholic States at Thruway
March 3-4 States at Section IV