"Something about throwing the ball at pins is fun," Jason Maulbeck said before he took his turn at Madison Plaza Lanes.
He is the standout on the Madison High School varsity bowling team, and the leader of the squad. His enjoyment of the sport is infectious – he high-fives teammates after his strikes and spares, and they mention him when asked about their goals. He, along with fellow seniors Lance Carriere and Harrison Mills, hope to lead the young team on a win streak following a disappointing 0-3 start.
"I've loved it my entire life," Maulbeck said.
He ought to, as bowling is a seven day part of his life. Aside from hitting the lanes with his Dodgers teammates twice a week, he bowls in three other leagues.
"At this point, I don't have an off day," Maulbeck said. " I bowl in a league in Rockaway, a league in Madison, and a traveling league between Warwick and Sparta."
Earlier in the season, Maulbeck bowled a perfect 300, which he gregariously referred to as "fabulous," and "a great feeling." He is averaging 207 per game, but he is aware of his place on the team – laying out its most immediate goal.
"We just want to get a couple wins. We're trying, but we're having fun doing it, so it's all good!"
Maulbeck's teammate Lance Carriere is a senior, and he is also looking to improve. Carriere is looking to raise his average in increments, and he has high expectations for himself.
"I want to raise my average," he said. "My target score is anything higher than what I have. Once I get that target score, it's anything higher than that."
Carriere's best score is a very respectable 176, and though he likes the competitive meets, the relaxed nature of the practices is the reason for his love of the game.
"My favorite part is the practices," he said.
Completing the trio of seniors is Harrison Mills, a third-year bowler who took last year off to participate in the school play. He is happy to be back in competition, and he is looking to improve his game on the technical fine points.
"I'm trying to get my hook down. I finally have a good ball drilled for me so I can get a good grip," he said.
Mills is a fine bowler, with a target score this season of "210 or 220." He laments the loss of last year's prolific senior class, but he hopes the younger kids will dedicate themselves to improving their game.
"The team is OK," he said. "We were a lot better last year, but I'm hoping some kids learn how to get hook on their ball to improve their score."
Leading the squad is head coach Charlie Diamante, who is in his 10th year at that position. The bowling team, like many other high school sports teams right now, is feeling the impact of a conference realignment that pits Madison against tougher Morris County high schools.
"Last year we were second in the Northern Hills Conference behind West Orange," Diamante said. "We were 10-4 last year, but we lost six seniors. We're 0-3 so far, and we have a lot of beginners."
The coach mentioned Maulbeck's stellar performance at the Bishop Ahr Tournament last Saturday in New Brunswick as a highlight for this season thus far.
"His best game was a 296 and his series score was a 777," Diamante said.
Diamante's goals for the year are realistic. He acknowledges that the loss of a lot of strong bowlers in the past year will take its toll on the team, but he hopes the younger bowlers will improve their game.
"We work on tips, technique, how to adjust, timing, and speed in practice," he said. "I will be very pleased with .500 this season, but only because of beginners. We have been in close games."