HUNTLEY – To the west, past the clustered neighborhoods and the frozen farmland and the sprawling high school, the sun is setting.
The next morning’s sunrise will mark the first day of final exams. The tests will stretch for three class days in all, a high-stakes conclusion to more than four months of work.
Studying will happen later tonight.
Because now is the time for bowling.
Have you ever bowled a perfect game? Have you ever gripped a ball, squared your shoulders, timed your steps and nailed 12 consecutive strikes for a perfect 300?
No one on the Huntley Red Raiders’ boys bowling team has achieved the milestone. Some of their peers around McHenry County have done so, including Woodstock co-op’s Tyler Busch on Jan. 9, but the feat has proved elusive for Huntley.
At least, for now.
Perhaps Wednesday would be the day. Perhaps here, atop the grooved, oiled surfaces and beneath the dim lighting of Bowl-Hi Lanes, someone will create a lifelong memory.
The Red Raiders hosted Woodstock co-op, and both teams wanted to do well as the regional competition approaches. In front of a smattering of parents, a half-dozen bowlers from each school rolled three games apiece, and each team’s combined total (keeping the top five scores while dropping the lowest) determined the winner.
If the process sounds complicated, that’s OK, don’t worry about it.
Just know this.
Each bowler wants to be perfect.
ON THE RIGHT PATH
Huntley sophomore Brandon Anzalone is off to a fast start in his second game.
“Four in a row gets exciting,” Anzalone said. “The longest I had was like eight strikes in a row. You get nervous – and disappointed if you mess up.”
Disappointment is a part of every sport, and Anzalone is about to experience it.
In the fifth frame, he tries to mimic every motion from his first four rolls: careful footwork, proper arm speed, specific arm angle, precise follow through.
Like every other roll, the ball spins down the right side of the lane before curving left to send pins crashing. Yet, this time, after the sound of impact more than 60 feet away, two pins – the 4 and the 7 – remain standing in the left corner.
Fellow sophomore Jake Manczko is the next to flirt with perfection for Huntley.
It’s the third and final game of the match, and Manczko is coming off an impressive finish in his second game that resulted in a 237. He carries positive momentum into his third game, which starts like this.
Manczko knows that he’s 5 for 5. He also knows how he’s starting to feel.
“Nervous,” Manczko said. “A little.”
During an individual practice at Bowl-Hi last year, Manczko had followed the same path toward perfection.
“I was just here by myself,” Manczko said. “It was 9 [strikes], and one in the 10th.”
This time, people are watching.
Then comes the sixth frame, when an imperfect shot ruins a perfect start. Manczko leaves three pins – the 2, 4 and 5 – standing, and although he fades down the stretch, he finishes with a 198 to complete a productive day.
Teammates greet Manczko with high-fives.
“It’s a game to improve on,” said Kyle Sieb, another sophomore on the team. “I’m always focusing on how I throw the ball, and don’t get angry about a bad shot.”
‘IT WILL HAPPEN’
Huntley bowling coach Brian O’Neill watches from a few feet away as Anzalone, Manczko and the rest of the team pursue top scores.
O’Neill’s squad bowls almost every day during the season, either as part of practice or as part of a sanctioned competition. Each stint includes three games and lasts anywhere between 90 minutes and two hours.
When a bowler reels off strike after strike, O’Neill emphasizes consistency.
“From a coach’s standpoint, you just tell him to focus on one shot at a time,” O’Neill said. “You try not to over-coach him so he loses his focus.
“I’ve had kids before in years past that were at eight, nine in a row, and at that point I’m just going to stay away and not say a word to them because they’re probably in the zone.”
Don Zielinski knows what it means to be in the zone.
At 31 years old, he runs Bowl-Hi Lanes, which has been in his family for 42 years. Zielinski has bowled since he was 4 or 5, and last year he rolled a perfect game.
Zielinski shrugged. It’s not that rare anymore, he said.
“I thought it would be a bigger deal than it was, you know what I mean?” Zielinski said. “Because I never had one.
“But then I got one, and I was like, ‘Oh, I could do it again.’ ”
But it seems like a pretty big deal.
It is to O’Neill, who once was perfect through nine frames before missing in the 10th.
“Some day, it will happen,” O’Neill said. “That’s the good thing about bowling. It doesn’t matter how old or young or big or small you are. You can do it forever, and it’s possible.”
Not tonight, though. It’s dark outside, and the bowling alley has emptied.
Now is the time for studying.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.