By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – On Friday the Muskegon Community College men’s and women’s bowling teams will experience a rare treat:

The chance to open their season at home, with teams from seven other colleges coming to Muskegon to compete in the inaugural Great Lakes College Bowling Classic.

The MCC bowling teams spent the first four years of their existence constantly traveling. There was only one other community college in Michigan with bowling teams, which meant a lot of miles had to be logged in order to compete.

But that’s all changed this season. Two more community colleges in the state have added bowling programs, so the Jayhawks are now part of a four-team conference.

Having nearby opponents has finally allowed the Jayhawks to finally host their own multi-team tournament., the Great Lakes College Classic.

That will occur at Northway Lanes on Friday, with teams from Schoolcraft College, Wayne County Community College, Kirtland Community College, Siena Heights College, Rochester College, Alma College and Aquinas College competing with the Jayhawks.

The bowlers will compete for team and individual championships. The event will begin around 10 a.m. with the medal ceremony scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Admission is free and a new bowling ball will be raffled off.

“This is going to be pretty exciting,” said MCC bowling coach Bill Bowen. “This will be the first tournament we’ve ever hosted. Usually they are just regular matches, and we’ve never hosted more than four teams before.”

The tournament will mark the beginning of the 2015 season for the MCC teams.

Despite only existing for four years, and having no conference to compete in, the Jayhawk bowling teams have had their share of success.

Three Jayhawk bowlers have earned All-American honors, and one – Aaron Sherman – won the National Junior College Athletic Association men’s singles championship in 2012.

The Jayhawk teams are starting with largely new rosters this season, with only three bowlers returning from last year’s men’s squad and only one from the women’s team.

Both teams competed at the NJCAA national tournament in Buffalo, New York last year, with the men finishing ninth and the women taking 12th. No Jayhawk bowlers won individual national honors last season.

Returning to the men’s team this year are sophomores Noah Carter (Reeths-Puffer), Dakota Hanson (Mona Shores) and Mitch Wybenga (Hudsonville). Incoming freshmen are Brad Cook (Oakridge), Mike Flowers (Whitehall), Jacob Jett (Orchard View), Stephon Jones (Spring Lake), Garret Rudnick (Fruitport) and Colin Wever (Orchard View).

The sole returnee on the women’s team is Rita French, a graduate of Ravenna High School. Filling out the roster are freshmen Breanne Burns (Fruitport), Shelly Castenholz (Ravenna), Nicole DePender (Oakridge), Rebecca Goodno (Ravenna), Katie Hendrickson (North Muskegon), Caitlin Hughey (Fruitport) and Candace Sutter (North Branch).

Despite their inexperience, Bowen expects both teams to be highly competitive this winter.

“We filled our rosters in nicely with new recruits and a couple of walk-ons,” said Bowen, who added that most area high schools have bowling teams, so there is plenty of talent to recruit at the local level.

“I think we will compete and have a real good shot of making nationals.”

The Jayhawks will compete for regular season conference titles with men’s and women’s teams from Schoolcraft, Kirtland and Wayne.

There will be a postseason regional tournament involving those four schools, with the top men’s and women’s teams advancing to the NJCAA nationals.