On the day they competed for the South Jersey sectional championships earlier this month, members of the Washington Township boys bowling team will be the first to admit they had a bad day.
A team that rolled into the sectional playoffs as the clear favorite, the Minutemen finished third behind Southern Regional and Eastern and were in danger of not qualifying for the state championship tournament.
But then they were presented with a second chance - and they made the most of it. Did they ever!
Due to an NJSIAA rule change just this season, the state tournament featured a wild card team from each section to compete in the state tournament. The Minutemen received the bid out of the South section. All six players -- junior Marcus Spann; seniors Josh Dicks, Jason Aquino, and Troy Clifford; and sophomores David Libby and Steve Spino -- then made the most of their second chance when they rolled to the Group 4 state championship followed by The Tournament of Champions crown on Feb. 10th.
The state title was the second in 10 years and also second in school history for Washington Township. The Gloucester County school defeated defending state champion, Jackson Liberty, 3-1, in the NJSIAA Team Tournament of Champions final at Bowlero in North Brunswick. A No. 2 seed, coach Nick Guerrieri's team claimed wins in the hotly contested T of C finals by scores of 200-194, 262-203, and 234-169 respectively.
Anchor Marcus Spann, a junior, recorded two strikes in the clinching game for the Minutemen, who finished the regular season with a 16-0 record and emerged as Group 4 state champions over Old Bridge and West Orange earlier that day.
After posting a 16-0 regular season mark in dual matches, the Minutemen were brushed aside in the South Jersey Group 4 finals, with Olympic Conference rival Eastern winning the crown and earning the automatic bid to the state tournament. When they heard they would still compete in the states thanks to the wild card bid, Guerrieri knew his talented team could not be counted out.
"Without the wild card bid, we would not have been able to go out on top," said Guerrieri, a second-year coach. "We had a bad day in the sectionals, but the kids approached the states as a brand new start. They had the right attitude and right approach. They bowled out of their minds, especially in the Tournament of Champions."
And the Minutemen overcame additional adversity during the recent season as well. Spann, a junior, broke a finger on his bowling hand during the season, but overcame the injury to play a key role in Township's Tournament of Champions run. Spino, Libby, both sophomores, also overcame lack of experience heading into the season to provide consistent, solid play. The sophomore pair each improved their averages from the low 100s to the mid 190s, said Guerrieri.
"They overcame an awful lot as a team," Guerrieri commented. "They embraced each other and worked really hard. They made a decision to just focus on their individual games and make any improvements necessary for the team. The sophomores, in particular, really showed improvement and consistency throughout the season. They are a remarkable group."
The triumph was the second state crown in 10 years for the program. Washington Township also captured a Group 4 state title in 2010 under former coach Steve Hudock, who was assisted by Tracy Burkhart -- also Guerrieri's current assistant coach -- and Sam Maccarone.
But if you think the Minutemen want to wait that long for their next state title, think again.
"I know these kids don't want to wait that long again -- they're already working again for that repeat," said Guerrieri. "We have a few kids returning. They will only get better."