“Strikes first, spares next, pins last.”
That’s the slogan of the South Brunswick boys bowling team, who capped a stellar season with a historic win of the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Tournament of Champions after placing second in the sectionals to advance to the state championship, and then winning the Group 4 state title to advance them to the Meet of Champions.
Led by Coach Kelly Forthun, the Vikings won their Group 4 State Championship with a total of 2,988 pins, defeating Howell High School (2,796) and third-place East Brunswick High School (2,740) to advance to the Tournament of Champions on Feb. 16 against the winners of the three other groups: Roselle Park High School, Montville Township High School, and Jackson Memorial High School.
The Tournament of Champions overall state title is the Vikings’ first-ever and is the NJSIAA’s last iteration of the tournament after it moved to eliminate it this past December.
“It was surreal,” said Forthun. “We went straight from winning Group 4 to entering the Tournament of Champions, so we didn’t really have time to celebrate until it was all over, and it was truly unbelievable. We just felt incredible.”
Due to the pandemic, the Vikings were confined to bowling their regular season matches at Bowlero in North Brunswick and competed virtually against other teams, with coaches communicating score updates. Before the pandemic, the team would regularly travel to three different bowling alleys across the state to play matches and would participate in tournaments every Saturday.
“There was not much pressure from the opponents, since we didn’t know what the other team was doing,” Forthun said. But the team played this to their advantage, and when facing Woodbridge High School, who was ranked No. 1 in the state at the time, Forthun recounted that “there was a little more pressure on our team to keep the team going strong, without distractions from the other team.”
The Vikings ended up tying Woodbridge twice this season.
Rivan Parikh, a junior at South Brunswick who has been on the team since 2020, said that “the greatest thing about this year’s team was the concentration on [their] own game.”
“At the beginning of the season, we had absolutely no idea how good we would be, and it wasn’t until we started winning consecutive games that we knew we had a shot at winning Group 4 and the Tournament of Champions,” Rivan said.
According to Rivan, one of the team’s favorite moments was when South Brunswick beat Monroe Township High School early on in the season to secure Forthun’s 100th win.
“It was emotional for her and the team,” Rivan said. “She baked us all cookies the next day. I felt very rewarding for all of us.”
To Forthun, however, the win was “just another one for the book.” A lifelong bowler, she has coached the Vikings since 2013 and led them to a Group 4 state championship in 2019, where they finished second in the Tournament of Champions to a Jackson Memorial team that had two sons of PBA Hall of Fame bowler Parker Bohn III.
“The most impactful thing that Coach Forthun brought to the team was her experience and constant motivation. She would always ask us, ‘Why not us? Why not us?’ and we carried that mentality all throughout the season,” Rivan said.
Next season, Rivan said he looks forward to becoming a team captain to lead the team and mentor the new bowlers. Only three starters on the varsity bowling team, including Rivan, will remain next year.
“I know we will carry the same poise next season, unafraid and hungry for a state championship,” he said. “Coach Forthun taught us that we could achieve anything as long as we put our minds to it, and it’s up to us to keep the winning tradition of South Brunswick going.”