Bobcats bowlers keep on rollin’

Members of the Paul Smith’s College bowling team, from the left: Ben McInerney, Kalei Fenn, Nick Ferrara, coach Phil Muha and Matt Jerome gather for a photo Tuesday at Romano’s Saranac Lanes, the home house of the Bobcats’ squad. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Paul Smith’s College bowling coach Phil Muha has no reservations about calling his program a dynasty. And with seven league titles in the eight years the team has existed, there’s little doubt that the word dynasty could be considered a very accurate description.

Two weekends ago in Merrimack, New Hampshire, the Bobcats nailed down their sixth straight and seventh overall Yankee Small College Conference team championship. In addition to claiming the team title, Paul Smith’s students Kalei Fenn and Nick Ferrara were crowned the men’s and women’s overall champions during the two days of competition that took place April 6-7.

“I’d say we do have a very big dynasty,” Muha said earlier this week while gathered with members of the team at their home house, Romano’s Saranac Lanes. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of talented bowlers come through our doors and want to participate on the team and stick around, because we always have lots of fun, good times had by all and really, I’m just very thankful for all these students who have been on the bowling team.”

Muha said the sport of bowling is really a good fit for the type of programs that Paul Smith’s offers and the background of the student-athletes who are drawn to the small college nestled in the Adirondack Mountains.

“It’s because of the majors that we offer. We’re a trade school, and trades and bowling go hand in hand,” Muha explained. “We have kids whose parents and grandparents have bowled. It’s generational. They’ve grown up doing the sport, and loving the sport. It’s just been fortunate that we have those ties and bowling is a trade-oriented, blue-collar sport that people still participate in.”

Ten teams from six YSCC schools competed in the championships, and in following with tradition, Paul Smith’s fielded two squads in the event. This year’s winning ‘Cats team was comprised of Fenn, Ferrara, Connor Bean, Lucas Machowski and Ben McInerney.

During most seasons, Paul Smith’s has wound up grabbing the top two spots in the team competition, but this time around, the Bobcats squads squared off in the first qualifying match. The winners eventually moved on to defeat Unity College 594-436 in the final.

Along with the team she has bowled on for the past four seasons, Fenn has also established her own little dynasty. On the second day of the tournament, the senior nailed down her third individual women’s championship. Fenn, who also won the title as a freshman, last year, and was runner-up as a sophomore, clinched the title and ended her stellar career at Paul Smith’s with a 217-143 victory over fellow Bobcat Abby Cowan in the final match.

Fenn, who will graduate from the school’s bakery and pastry program next month, said it’s been an amazing run.

“My freshman year, I beat a girl who had never lost in a collegiate match,” said Fenn, who hails from Newark Valley. “I came out with a pretty nice freshman year; my sophomore year I was runner-up to one of my teammates, so from there, I decided to bring in the competitive spirit that I have and finish out my college career with number ones.

“When we went to the championships this year, I wanted to be really competitive and bring good vibes, just like coach said.

“We’re all close to each other and we have so much fun when we’re together. The whole weekend was a ball of laughs, that’s for sure.”

In the championship final against Cowan, Fenn had already clinched the title well before entering the last frame, and she explained that the feelings really kicked in knowing that her athletic career at Paul Smith’s was coming to a close.

“I knew going into the 10th frame that I had already won it. At that point it was just throwing my last ball for Paul Smith’s College. Everything coming to an end all at once was crazy,” Fenn said. “It was really emotional. I love this sport and I love this team. Most of my friends that I found when I was on campus to begin with were on the bowling team.

“Looking back on my college career, most of my fondest memories were being part of the bowling team, whether it was traveling throughout the year, or our championships or even just practices here every night. It’s really good way blow off steam after a long day of classes, definitely.”

Unlike Fenn, Ferrara is a junior and will have one more season of bowling at Paul Smith’s College. The Gloversville High School graduate caught fire earlier in the day during the matches leading up to the men’s individual final, rolling a 276 in the qualifying match and then coming through with a 226-146 triumph over Vermont Tech’s Tyler Couture in the semifinal round. Ferrara, however, struggled in the championship battle and finished with a 153, but it was good enough to top another Vermont Tech bowler, Harrison Heist, who came up six pins short with a 147.

“It was really close,” Ferrara recalled. “I was doing well above everyone else my entire day, and than the last game, I made some serious mistakes. The thought was ‘I was very not going to win it,’ and then the other kid made worse mistakes.

“I kept my head in the game, I focused on bowling and didn’t let bad balls throw me off like it does with some people,” Ferrara continued. “I had a couple bad shots, but I moved on from there and focused on working up. I did pretty good. I wanted to win, especially because I was runner-up last year. In the end, I made the most of my opportunity. It was a well-contested final match.”

Another bowler on the winning Paul Smith’s team who ended an impressive run at the school was Schuylerville High School alum Ben McInerney, who was the men’s individual champion a season ago. The senior finished third this time, a result that gave him a pair of third-place titles, a fourth-place showing, an individual crown, as well as four team championships in his four years of bowling as a Bobcat.

“I love this team. It’s been an awesome ride,” McInerney said. “We’ve had a great team every year, I’ve made brand new friends every year. I can’t pick a single memory out. It all was very enjoyable. The whole thing was a whole journey and it was a blast.”

Muha said he’ll be losing eight seniors from this season’s squad of 20 bowlers strong. Although the plan remains to keep the dynasty rolling right along, he said it will be especially tough replacing this group of seniors who have been a huge part of the program since they joined the team.

“I want to thank all the seniors that I’m losing,” Muha said. “We have about eight prospects coming in. Hopefully they can fill the void that all my seniors have unfortunately left me this year, and I am looking forward to next year. It’s still going to be hard to replace the fun, the leadership, the atmosphere that’s going out when our seniors graduate.”