There often is a distinctive din in bowling alleys, particularly during scholastic competition. It’s a cacophony of cheers, chants and chortles steadily generated by teammates.
So common, it’s essentially an accepted custom.
None of that comes from the Beacon High School bowling teams, though. It’s noticeably quieter around their lanes.
“We’re not the rah-rah type,” senior Kevin Murphy said. “We don’t think the noise is necessary. We just keep calm and do our thing.”
The same can be said of the Bulldogs’ performance this season. There hasn’t been much pomp and circumstance — and very little trumpeting of themselves — but Beacon has stealthily climbed the standings. A program that long had been an also-ran in the Dutchess-Putnam Interscholastic League is suddenly ascending this season.
The girls team, boasting a roster stacked with talented underclassmen, sits in third place and is expected be a contender in the coming years. The boys team, though, is among the elite right now.
The Bulldogs’ boys are in second place in the league. They are 8-2 in head-to-head matchups, with the two losses coming to John Jay, the undefeated defending Section 1 champion. The Patriots have dropped only two games all season — both to Beacon. Moral victories, of course, but the Bulldogs have made the proverbial giant bleed its own blood.
“I’ve been on the team since seventh grade and this is the first time we’ve been able to compete with them,” senior Peter Ostrow said. “They’ve been on top for so long, and that’s where we want to be.”
John Jay topped Beacon, 1,027-1,049, 1,080-935, 1,032-946 last Thursday at Fishkill Bowl. The Bulldogs held their own early but began to falter during the ninth frame of the second game, Beacon coach Brian Mahon said.
“It’s great to know we can compete with them,” he said, “but it’s also frustrating because we think we can win but let it slip.”
That even being a source of annoyance is cause for celebration there. Beacon, in recent years, had grown accustomed to fourth- and fifth-place finishes… in a six-team league. So this breakout now, Murphy said, “is really a pleasant surprise to us.”
His role in revelation has been key. One tangible change for the boys team was the re-addition of Murphy and freshman Tre Smith, both of whom left the team last season to focus on academics.
The two continued to bowl recreationally and their skills, with time, meliorated. They returned to the team in the fall and made an immediate impact. Murphy said his average spiked about 30 points, and he is now at 188. Smith is at 194.
“With those guys coming back, I knew it would be huge for us,” Mahon said. “That addition gave us a solid starting lineup.”
A balanced one, too. Ostrow leads them with a 202 average, followed by eighth-grader Vincent Bouderau at 194. Matthew Maffei, a junior, is shooting 184.
Ostrow said he has worked hard to improve his spare shooting and Murphy, his adjustments to oil patterns and lane conditions. And for as laid-back as the group is, the bowlers admitted there is internal competition. There are matches within the matches, each striving to one-up their teammates.
Ostrow recently complained of back pain. When teammates asked what happened, he replied wryly, “Because I’ve been carrying the team.”
The crew isn’t boisterous, but there is plenty of playful banter and Mahon described them as close-knit. The bowlers even have nicknames for each other based on television networks.
Bouderau is “Showtime,” Murphy said, because “he’s the flashiest one among us.” Maffei and Murphy share “Encore” because of their propensity to string consecutive strikes. Smith was tabbed “HBO,” an acronym for Honey Bunches of Oats. (The origin of that one is still unknown.)
Former teammate Joseph Steele drops by Beacon’s matches occasionally. He once remarked this season that, although he would have liked to share in the current success, a benefit in having graduated already is that “at least he got to bowl,” Ostrow said. “He said if he was on the team now, he wouldn’t have a starting spot.”
The Bulldogs this season have surpassed longtime league stalwarts Arlington and Roy C. Ketcham and made it, essentially, a two-team race for the division crown. The Patriots have won 66 points to Beacon’s 58, but the Bulldogs hope to challenge John Jay in the sectional tournament, seeking their first title in 18 years.
“Every year we’ve been saying, ‘This is the year,'” Murphy said. “We’ve always wanted it. But this is actually the year we’ve been able to really compete with them. If we could win, it would be amazing.”
The John Jay girls team also is in first place, but Beacon is jockeying with Arlington for second. Jenna Maffei leads the Bulldogs with a 186 average, followed by Selena Virtuoso at 177 and Brianna Virtuoso at 164.
“We’ve got a good group of kids and things are falling into place,” Mahon said. “The girls have a ton of potential.”
The bonus there is that the oldest members of the girls team are sophomores.
“Both Beacon teams having success is kind of refreshing,” Murphy said. “That’s not something we’ve been used to here.”
In fact, Ostrow said, during the lean years there wasn’t much frustration in losing. The team “never had much of a chance,” so he became numb to it. Not so anymore.
“Beacon has the brightest future we’ve had in a while,” he said. “I didn’t really see a competitive future for Beacon bowling. But now, with the young talent on the boys and girls teams, I can see them competing for states down the road.”
They can see it coming. Even if it won’t be heard.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4