Neumann junior Matt Stankiewicz is 2-for-2 in winning Catholic League titles. That’s already more success than most athletes achieve with their high-school teams.
But Stankiewicz will help his squad try for three straight Saturday, when the Pirates meet St. Joseph’s Preparatory High at Boulevard Lanes in Northeast Philly. Neumann’s last two championship wins came against the Prep.
This time, Matt’s younger brother Joe, a sophomore, is along for the ride. After spending last season on junior varsity, the 15-year-old bowler is experiencing the stress that comes with playing for the defending champion.
"Watching is a little easier than playing because you are not under as much pressure," Joe said.
Matt, the only returning varsity starter, is doing his best to help Joe adjust.
"He is a little hardheaded at times," said Matt, 17. "He gets mad if he doesn’t make his spares. I tell him to calm down and focus on the next shot."
In Tuesday’s 2,523-2,469 semifinal win over Archbishop Wood, the sophomore displayed the skills of an experienced varsity bowler when he made back-to-back strikes in the 10th frame of game two, earning a bonus roll.
"Come on, Joe, get that last one!" a family member shouted from his seat.
Sure enough, he made the third strike, inspiring his grandparents — and the rest of the Neumann fans — to leap from their seats.
"That’s my grandson!" his grandmother shouted with pride.
Joe finished the second game with a 177, closely behind Matt’s 184 game.
Coach Gene Mattioli said Joe has plenty of talent but, like most rookie starters, needs to relax.
"I think when he just lets the ball come off his fingertips, [the ball] reacts to the delivery," the coach said.
Both brothers are finishing impressive seasons. Matt has earned First Team All-Catholic honors for the second year in a row with a 191 average, while Joe received a Second Team nod with a 182 average. More importantly, Mattioli has been able to rely on Matt to lead the young team in high-pressure situations, such as the Catholic League playoffs.
"When it counts the most, he does his best bowling," the coach said.
On Tuesday, the junior bowled a 544 series with a high game of 194.
"Without question, he has probably imposed more on himself than we have tried to," Mattioli said. "His bowling well in the playoffs is invaluable to us as far as settling down the troops, including his brother."
The brothers, of the 1900 block of East Moyamensing Avenue, each started learning to bowl at age 4. Their choice of lanes is Maple Bowl in Pennsauken, N.J., just a 15-minute ride over the bridge. Matt and Joe still compete in a Saturday-morning league. The two also have their own head-to-head competitions, which Joe admits Matt usually wins.
"I’ve beaten him once," Joe said.
But once they don their black Neumann bowling shirts, the players are squarely on the same team.
"There is no competition," Matt said. "The only competition is the other team."
This week, the focus is on raising their averages for Saturday, as Mattioli expressed some concern about the Pirates’ pin total in Tuesday’s meet.
After the match, the coach said most of the varsity rookies admitted to a case of playoff nerves. The Pirates built a 123-pin advantage heading into the final game, but all five bowlers struggled to match their season averages. Just for good measure, the squad was planning two practice sessions at Boulevard Lanes this week.
Like Joe, senior Rob McGinnis (179 average), junior Mike Zarrella (188) and sophomore Steve DiGiovanni (186) are also newcomers to the championship scene.
If Neumann finishes on top, the team will claim its third straight Catholic League title and 10th overall.
Of course the Stankiewicz family will be well-represented in the crowd, as Neumann championship games are becoming a tradition.
"It’s good to know I have support from my family," Matt said. "It makes it a little easier to bowl."
Matt and Joe are both hoping to give their fans reason to celebrate.
"I would like to get as many [rings] as I can," Joe said.
"Leave with four in a row," Matt added.