One thing stands between most Catholic League bowling teams and winning a title, and that is the unstoppable St. John Neumann squad.
The team added to its legend Saturday with a 3,184-2,824 victory over St. Joseph’s Preparatory High, completing its second three-peat over the last seven seasons and clinching its 10th Catholic League title overall.
This year’s win is the best performance ever by a Neumann squad. The Pirates’ 3,184 total pins breaks the previous mark of 3,115 pins set by the 1997 squad.
Ironically, Neumann coach Gene Mattioli had some concerns after his team knocked down just 2,523 pins in last week’s semifinal win over Archbishop Wood. Even after holding two practice sessions at Boulevard Lanes, the dominating performance exceeded all expectations.
"I thought we were ready after the practices, although I still didn’t believe we would bowl anything like a 3,184 or break any school records," Mattioli said.
The accomplishment was particularly impressive given most of the bowlers’ lack of championship experience. Junior Matt Stankiewicz was the only returning starter from previous championship teams. Newcomers like Mike Zarrella adjusted to the pressure as the week went on.
"Last week, we bowled Wood and it was really tough, being my first playoff match," the junior said. "[On Saturday], I actually felt a whole lot more confident and it felt a whole lot easier."
Zarrella was one of four Neumann bowlers to finish with a 600-plus series. Matt Stankiewicz led the way with a 666 series. Sophomore Steve DiGiovanni had a 655 series, senior Rob McGinnis finished with a 637 and Zarrella tallied a 631. Junior Joe Stankiewicz, Matt’s younger brother, just missed the mark with his 595.
McGinnis delivered the day’s best single-game performance with 278 in the third game, including nine straight strikes.
"It just feels great showing that I could do it," he said.
The Prep was taking a second shot at Neumann in this title game after last year’s match was decided by just three pins in the final frame.
The Prep put together another strong season by finishing second in the Southern Division behind Neumann. Senior Mark Rubbo, a South Philadelphia resident, entered the contest with a Southern Division-best 195 average, earning him First Team All-Catholic honors. Rubbo led his team with a 645 series, including a high game of 232 in the third match. Teammate Dan DeFeo, also from South Philly, finished with a 582 series.
Drew Beaver, another local resident, who split his time between varsity and junior varsity this season, bowled in the second game, and finished with a 159.
Two days after the match, Rubbo was far enough removed from the loss to put a positive spin on the experience.
"I enjoy bowling Neumann each year because of their strong competitive spirit," he said.
Mattioli had similar praise for the Prep squad.
"It’s a new challenge every year because they’ve got a great squad," he said. "They bowled a 2,950 to beat Father Judge in their own house. We did a nice job against a great team."
Playing on a team with such a strong championship history raises expectations for the Neumann bowlers. DiGiovanni said he believes the team could continue its streak and give him two more victories before he graduates.
"We can do anything," the varsity rookie said. "As long as you put your head into it, you can do anything."
Matt Stankiewicz is already thinking about the possibilities, as he could become the first bowler in Neumann history to win four Catholic League titles if the Pirates prevail next year. If Neumann does advance to the title match, Stankiewicz is sure to be wearing his lucky orange pants, which haven’t failed him yet.
"They were lucky for me freshman year, and last year I wore the same pants and we won again," the junior said. "I figured as long as they are lucky, I might as well use them."
This championship was also more significant than the previous two, as he shared it with his brother.
"I was very confident after the first game, and I enjoyed every minute of it," Joe Stankiewicz said.
While some of the bowlers are willing to guarantee another Neumann title, Mattioli isn’t ready to make such a bold prediction.
"You didn’t hear that," the coach said. "I am still taking a breath from this one."
In his 26 years of coaching the Neumann squad, Mattioli has established a program that few can match. Former players return for championship games wearing their black Neumann bowling shirts. They are part of a standing-room-only crowd that serves as the backbone for this South Philly championship dynasty.
"Six titles in seven years speaks for itself," McGinnis said. "It’s just great to be a part of it." SPR
The Neumann dynasty
Last weekend’s Catholic League championship is the third in a row and sixth in the last seven seasons for Neumann. With 10 titles since the 1978-79 season, the Pirates have established themselves as one of the Catholic League’s top bowling programs.
2003 Defeated St. Joe’s Prep
2002 Defeated St. Joe’s Prep
2001 Defeated Archbishop Ryan
1999 Defeated St. Joe’s Prep
1998 Defeated Conwell-Egan
1997 Defeated Conwell-Egan
1992 Defeated Bishop Egan
1987 Defeated Father Judge
1985 Defeated Bishop Egan
1979 Defeated Germantown*
1979 Defeated North Catholic
*The win over Germantown was for the Philadelphia City Title.