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TC Central's Carter Banton, TC West's Taylor Phillips lead 2024 all-region teams as Bowlers of the Year

Apr. 7—TRAVERSE CITY — Bowling can be so many different things for so many different people.

To some, it might just be a silly game that involves throwing a rock to knock over some sticks.

But to many others, bowling is a passion. And sometimes it is even a necessary escape in difficult times.

For the Record-Eagle's 2024 Boys and Girls Bowlers of the Year, the sport they love runs the entire gauntlet from fun to fiery passion to that much-needed escape.

That is what makes the sport so special and what makes the achievements of Traverse City Central's Carter Banton and Traverse City West's Taylor Phillips so special, too.

Banton capped off his junior campaign by qualifying for the state championships with a 1,207 at the Division 1 regional. He missed out on the singles matchplay tournament in the state finals, but Banton was the top area finisher in D1 action with a 19th-place finish and a 1,198 five-game series with a 229 high game.

In the Great Northwest High School Bowling Conference, Banton was the top bowler on the boys side as he edged our TC West's Cooper Phillips. Banton tallied 3,804 points in conference action with GNHSBC tournament-best 50 points. He finished with 16 wins in 18 conference games, rolling a 211 average along the way.

Banton has been bowling for about five years, but he got his start from a rather unconventional source — his younger brother, Nolan.

"He was like 7 years old and saw a bowling video on YouTube and decided he wanted to get his own balling ball," Banton said. "If we're going to go bowling, I figured I might as well get my own ball, too, and then my dad got his own. So it became kind of thing that way. It was all my little brother."

Usually, it is the older brother who inspires the younger brother to follow in the elder's footsteps, but the 17-year-old Carter is continuously impressed by 12-year-old Nolan's skills on the lanes. The two bowl together in a youth league at Lucky Jack's in Traverse City, and Nolan just recently neared a 700 series over three games with a 691 for a 230 average

"At 12 years old, he's already better than me two years ago. It's just crazy watching him," Banton said. "It's insane."

Family is a strong connector for Banton and bowling.

A big reason why he continues to bowl is for his late mother, who passed away from cancer when Banton was just 11 years old.

"While she was in hospice, we used bowling as kind of a getaway to just distract ourselves," he said. "Our uncle would take us bowling, and we wouldn't even really think about her being in the hospital. We'd just be bowling and having fun. So I feel like I need to keep going and do it for her."

Banton also began going to church in the wake of his mother's passing, and he feels his relationship with God has helped improve his mental approach to the game.

"I give a lot of my game to the Lord," Banton said. "Whenever I was having a problem, I would just pray and give all of my problems to Him, and that would just clear me. I'd get a sense of relief. I think it was a big part of why I averaged so high. If I started doing bad, I'd just sit there and pray and get all the nerves out of me. It was just a reset, and then I could go back up there."

That approach certainly seemed to help as he made a huge improvement from his sophomore to junior year. Banton started his freshman year bowling one-handed, but he switched to the two-handed approach as a sophomore after he watched professionals the likes of Jason Belmonte find success.

"Seeing him (Belmonte), one of the best bowlers in the world, I thought I would just try it out," Banton said. "I was messing around with it and said, 'All right, if I throw a strike here, then I'll switch to two-handed.' I threw a strike and switched right then.

"I wasn't very good one-handed, so going two-handed didn't really change much right away. In the long run, it's helped a lot."

Banton said he exceeded his own expectations for his junior season, and now he is eyeing a 220 average as a senior. His junior season was a lot about realizing just how far he can take his talent on the lanes. Banton said he'd like to get a scholarship and continue bowling in college.

"I just have a lot of fun bowling," Banton said. "If I could go to college for it, that would be great because then I could keep bowling. I want to go pro."

Phillips has that same goal.

"I want to take it as far as it can get me," the Traverse City West Titan said. "If I have the opportunity to go pro, I'll take it and give it a run. But I just want to see how far it gets me in life. I don't want to put an end to it."

That end won't come any time soon as Phillips is committed to Milligan University in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The bowling program there was built from the ground up by former TC West bowling head coach Brian Rickert.

Rickert being the head coach was definitely a bonus, Phillips said, but it wasn't the main reason she decided to go there.

"I wanted to leave Michigan. I wanted to get outside of my bubble and push my own boundaries," she said. "I know bowlers all across the state in Michigan and even outside, but I wanted to push my comfort zone and go out even further."

"The bowling team, when I went to go visit them, they all seemed like really nice girls and really nice people," Phillips continued. "Coach Rickert has coached me in the past, so I know his style and he's always been a great coach."

Phillips also liked that Milligan was a smaller school in a smaller community and gave her opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

"I like going out hiking and going on adventures, and there's the Appalachian Trail right off campus," she said.

Although Phillips admitted she had a rough day at the Division 1 individual state finals, the senior Titan was stellar throughout the rest of the season. She was the top singles qualifier with a 1,181 series at the regional meet and made the state finals with her two teammates, Jordan LaFleur and Alyssa Tanner, who each rolled a 1,180 in the regionals.

Phillips finished the GNHSBC season ranked No. 1, going a perfect 18 for 18 in her matches, scoring two wins in the conference tournament and finishing with a 201 average. Phillips, LaFleur and Tanner were all hoping to bowl in the team state finals, but they missed the cut by just a few pins. The trio of Titans did all qualify for individual states, however.

"It was so impressive that we even made it that close, considering we had two girls who were just starting bowling this year," Phillips said. "With them being brand new, it was pretty cool that we got that far. It wasn't what we were hoping for, but we all had a fun time and it was a great experience that we all had together."

Eric Porter, the chairman of the Traverse City Bowling Association Hall of Fame, had nothing but glowing things to say about Phillips, LaFleur and Tanner.

"They're not only the best players to come through the program in the last 20 years, but they are also the hardest-working girls that we've seen in quite a while," Porter said. "They practice and practice and practice and practice and practice. I cannot stress enough how much hard work they put in. I thought I worked hard at the game, these girls put me to shame."

Phillips and the rest of the GNHSBC Dream Teamers, including Banton, were honored at the TCBA Hall of Fame Banquet on March 17.

"It's always a great recognition," Phillips said. "I was just very happy that I was able to make the Dream Team all four years, which is definitely an accomplishment. It's also nice to be recognized for that because bowling isn't really a big sport, it's not something that people always talk about. So it's great to be recognized for the hard work and time we put into this sport."

The Traverse City Christian boys and girls state championship-winning teams were also honored at the banquet.

"This year, we had two state champions — Traverse City Christian boys and girls — so we had some special extra recognition for them because you don't get that every year, especially at a small school like that," Porter said.

Porter is excited about the future of bowling in Traverse City and northern Michigan, and he takes seriously the responsibility of fostering the next generation of bowlers who will take up the mantle and carry the sport forward.

"That's what is going to keep the game alive here," Porter said. "If we can get more of these kids to come back to the game after they've gone off to college, that's what'll do it."

Before Phillips heads off to college, she's still spending plenty of time at the bowling alley to hone her craft.

"I've improved over the years," she said. "I've gone from a four-step to a five-step approach and then back to a four-step to get my timing back on. I was bowling with a brace for a while, and now I'm back off the brace. So I've just improved the physical part of the game over the years, and my mental approach has improved so much from the time I was a freshman to where I am now as a senior. That's made me a stronger bowler and a better teammate for my friends."

Phillips said all four years bowling for the Titans were great fun.

"I've definitely gotten a lot closer with a lot of people in the bowling community and other bowlers within the area," she said. "Those are connections I'll keep for life, so that's definitely something I'm really happy about."

She is also happy with the legacy she'll leave at West.

"I'm happy with the way things turned out," Phillips said. "I'm very happy with what I left there, knowing that I worked hard and put all that time in to progress as a bowler and a teammate."

2024 RECORD-EAGLE BOYS DREAM TEAM

Carter Banton — Traverse City Central (Bowler of the Year)

Banton made a huge leap in his junior season, leading the Great Northwest High School Bowling Conference with more than 3,800 points and a 211 average. He qualified for the state individual finals and finished 19th.

Cooper Phillips — Traverse City West

Phillips was stellar in his senior season for the Titans, finishing ranked second in the GNHSBC with 3,768 points and a 209 average. He was the top qualifier in his regional to make the state individual finals, where he finished 25th.

James Hendrick — Petoskey

The sophomore for the Northmen qualified for the state finals out of the Division 2 regional with a 1,153 series. Hendrick finished 31st at state with a 1,089.

Zach Piechan — Boyne City

The junior Rambler rolled a high game of 237 and a high series of 421 in the 2023-24 season. He finished with a 179.7 average and helped his team earn a conference championship and regional title. He qualified for states as an individual and finished 35th.

Ethan Ehlert — Traverse City Christian

Ehlert was a big part of the Sabres' state championship victory, and he was top-notch during the season with a 182 average in 18 GNHSBC games. The junior then finished ninth at the state finals before a first-round loss in matchplay.

Tyler Brooks — Benzie Central

Brooks finished ranked ninth in the GNHSBC with a 174 average and 10 wins in 18 games. He was the second-best singles qualifier for state with a 1,189 and then finished 25th at states with a 1,114.

Tristan Lhamon — Traverse City Christian

Lhamon helped lead the Sabres to a Division 4 team state championship in his senior season, and he then finished in 35th place at the individual state finals. He finished ranked fifth in the GNHSBC with a 187 average and 13 wins.

Luke Rasmussen — Traverse City Christian

Rasmussen was an integral part of the Sabres' Division 4 state finals team championship win, and he finished 40th at the individual state finals. The senior was 12th in the GNHSBC with a 165 average.

Donte Reeves — Traverse City West

Reeves finished the GNHSBC season with the most wins, 17, among all boys bowlers. He was one of just three with a better-than-200 average at 206 for the conference season and 3,720 points.

Cameron Baker — Traverse City West

Baker fell just short of a 200 average, but he got as close as he could with a 199 through 18 GNHSBC games. He finished ranked fourth in the conference with 3,535 points and 15.5 wins.

Jonathan Shepherd — Boyne City

The junior for the Ramblers finished 2023-24 with a high game of 241 and a high series of 412. Shepherd ended the season with a 192.8 average and took second in the conference. He was instrumental in the Ramblers' conference and regional title wins.

Eric Mansfield — Boyne City

The senior Rambler rolled a 267 for his high game of the season and tallied a 420 for his high series. He had a 187.2 average and helped Boyne City to regional and conference championships.

J.J. Hinstala — Traverse City Central

Hinstala used some guidance from Bowler of the Year Carter Banton to put together a great season for the Trojans. He finished ranked seventh in the GNHSBC, tallying a 176 average with 15 wins in 18 games.

Danek Szajner — Traverse City Central

The All-Conference bowler finished the 2023-24 GNHSBC season ranked 10th, picking up 25 points in the conference tournament. He won 14 games and tallied a 169 average.

Makai Wyatt — Elk Rapids

Wyatt was an All-Conference bowler in the GNHSBC and finished ranked eighth overall. He collected 15 conference points and had 9.5 wins with a 177 average.

2024 RECORD-EAGLE GIRLS DREAM TEAM

Taylor Phillips — Traverse City West (Bowler of the Year)

The back-to-back Record-Eagle Girls Bowler of the Year put a bow on her high school bowling career with a spectacular senior season. Philips was ranked first in the GNHSBC with 3,662 points and won all 18 games she played while finishing with a 201 average.

Jordan LaFleur — Traverse City West

LaFleur was nothing short of great in her final high school season. The Titan took home the GNHSBC title with 50 points and was a perfect 18 for 18 in conference action, finishing ranked second with 3,553 points and a 193 average. She was a top-three regional performer and finished 18th at the individual state finals.

Alyssa Tanner — Traverse City West

The junior Titan was the best performer for TC West in the individual state finals, finishing fourth in the qualifiers and then reaching the quarterfinals in the championship matchplay. Tanner finished ranked third in the GNHSBC with 3,449 points, winning all 18 games she played and ending with a 188 average.

Rebekah Burch — Traverse City Christian

Burch was clutch for the Sabres as they dominated in the team state finals and left with a Division 4 state championship. Burch also put up a great performance at the individual state finals, finishing 16th in the qualifiers to earn a spot in the championship bracket. She was ranked fourth in the GNHSBC with 2,986 points, 15.5 wins and a 162 average.

Kacy Palmer — Traverse City Christian

Palmer was crucial to the Sabres' Division 4 state championship victory in the team finals, and she just missed out on the individual state championship bracket after a roll-off against fellow Sabre Rebekah Burch in the qualifying round. She ranked seventh in the GNHSBC with 2,635 points, 14 wins in 16 games and a 146 average.

Naomi Elenbaas — Traverse City Christian

Another critical piece in the Sabres' Division 4 team state championship, Elenbaas was fantastic in her senior season. She qualified for the individual state finals where she finished in 42nd place. She finished the GNHSBC season ranked fifth with 17 wins in 18 games and a 160 average.

Gwen Oliver — Traverse City Christian

Oliver was a top-10 bowler in the GNHSBC, finishing ranked sixth, and the senior came up big for the Sabres in their Division 4 team state championship victory. Oliver competed and finished 47th in the individual state finals. She won 13 of 16 games in the conference and tallied a 156 average.

Hailey Kauffman — Mancelona

Kauffman racked up 2,263 points in the GNHSBC, earning All-Conference honors in Division 3-4. She finished ranked eighth in the conference with 13 wins in 16 games and a 124 average.

Hallie Moffit — Cadillac

The All-Conference bowler in the GNHSBC finished ranked ninth and earned Division 1-2 honors. She picked up 15 wins in 18 games with a 119 average.

Laci Springborn — Elk Rapids

Springborn won 13 of her 17 games bowled in the GNHSBC, earning her All-Conference honors in Division 3-4. She ended with a 111 average.

Victoria McGeorge — Boyne City

The three-year varsity leader for the Ramblers finished first in the conference with a 186 average, rolling a high game of 269 and a high series of 443.

Lauren LaBute — Boyne City

LaBute was also a leader for the Ramblers in her junior season. She was second in the conference with a 183 average, tallying a high game of 236 with a high series of 420.

BOYS SECOND TEAM

Tanner Crick — Glen Lake

Josh Millward — Traverse City Christian

Logan Hewitt — Benzie Central

Noah Frank — Traverse City Central

Jonathan Gardner — Cadillac

Cris Walters — Traverse City West

Spencer Knight — Cadillac

Dennis Wold — Traverse City Central

Nick Schumaker — Bellaire

Cole Doucette — Traverse City West

Milan Astle — Bellaire

Jeremiah Wilkinson — Benzie Central

Reilly Kinnee — Glen Lake

Sean Humphrey — Traverse City Central

GIRLS SECOND TEAM

Annabelle Roach — Glen Lake

Tamara Moffit — Cadillac

Chloe Roseman — Bellaire

Eden Boeve — Traverse City Christian

Carys LeCureux — Bellaire

Lini Czerwonka — Traverse City Central

Violet Claar — Traverse City West

Autumn Cram — Traverse City West

Chloe Squires — Mancelona

Archaor Pigg — Mancelona

Rylan Houseman — Elk Rapids

Raeanne Gregware — Mancelona

Annastasia Walter — Traverse City Central

Hope Bell — Cadillac

Kileigh Munro — Traverse City Central

Iris Olson — Mancelona