Eisenhower bowler rewrites past struggles to win D1 state championship

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Shelby-Utica News | Published March 18, 2024

 Utica Eisenhower junior Dylan Harnden and his father, Mark Harnden, Eisenhower boys bowling head coach, celebrate Dylan’s MHSAA Division 1 individual state title March 2 at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park.

Utica Eisenhower junior Dylan Harnden and his father, Mark Harnden, Eisenhower boys bowling head coach, celebrate Dylan’s MHSAA Division 1 individual state title March 2 at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park.

Photo provided by Mark Harnden


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — If you would have polled various bowling coaches throughout Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties prior to this season and asked them, “Who’s the top bowler in the class of 2025,” it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Utica Eisenhower junior Dylan Harnden was mentioned multiple times.

A state qualifier his sophomore year as the No. 1 seed from the qualifying block, a member of the United States Bowling Congress Junior Team USA, and titles in both the Midwest Scratch Bowling Series and the Michigan Junior Masters Association, Harnden’s bowling resume can be stacked up with the best around.

The only thing missing was a Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state championship.

As a freshman, Harnden was a member of the Utica Eisenhower team that finished state runner-up, but then there was a struggle to get to the championship match on the individual side after not qualifying as a freshman. Harnden carried the No. 1 seed last year, but he was eliminated in the second round by the No. 8 seed, junior Brendan Riley, of Waterford Mott.

As Harnden outscored Grand Haven junior Ben Prokopec 393-375 in a two-series matchup in the championship game on March 2 at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, everything came to fruition for the young bowler.

“In my head, I never really expected myself to make it far, because in years past, like last year, I don’t know why, but I’ll just end up getting into a match where my opponent will throw it great, but they just can’t miss,” Harnden said. “I was just getting into those matches where there was nothing I could do.”

Along with the rest of the field, Harnden struggled to hit his regular season average of 223 throughout the state finals, scoring above it only once.

Thunderbowl is known to show a different look than the local lanes in Macomb County, so it was all about adjustments for Harnden.

“At our home house, everything wouldn’t hook a whole lot, while at Thunderbowl, everything just wanted to go left and hook a whole lot,” Harnden said. “I really had to change my whole mindset going into it. I had to play further left than normal, which for the whole year I really hadn’t been doing a lot.”

Normally a wrench in the plans could be a setback for Harnden, but a major progression of his game this season had less to do with his bowling ability and more to do with his mental toughness.

Sports like bowling and golf are especially ones in which a mental lapse or loss of confidence can be damaging, but Eisenhower bowling head coach Mark Harnden, Dylan’s father, said that wasn’t the case for Dylan this year.

“Really, it’s been his overall mindset,” Mark Harnden said. “He’s a lot more mentally stronger than in years past. He doesn’t get rattled as quickly. The other part of his game he’s been working on is getting more flexible with his release. There’s times when he can really get around the ball and curve the ball a lot, and then there’s times like this past weekend at states where he had to be softer with the hand and allow the ball to travel a little bit further down the lane and hook less.”

Harnden’s side of the state finals bracket had an unconventional start early on.

Macomb Dakota sophomore sensation Cole Rogus was eliminated in the first round alongside No. 2 seed Riley, who eliminated Harnden last year.

“To see everybody start to go down around us kind of allowed him to relax, because it was like, OK, the bigger names and the ones we would expect to face (are gone),’” Mark Harnden said. “We knew the second match against Nick Schaberg was going to be really tough, because him and Dylan are really good friends and he’s a lefty. He’s tough. We knew that was going to be a tough one.”

Harnden beat Schaberg 435-407, rolling his highest game of the tournament in the second series with a 249. Harnden punched his ticket for the state championship match with a 382-313 win over Farmington senior Albert Guzman, who made a run as the No. 15 seed.

There were early struggles for Harnden in the first series of the state title match, as he carried a 1-pin lead heading into the second series, but he was able to regroup and remained focused to get the job done.

“During that match, I just started to dwell on my past shots and worry about what I was going to do in the future frames,” Harnden said. “Pretty much between the first and second game, I had my dad, coach (Craig) Matheson and one of the (Macomb) Dakota coaches come over to me and just reassure me that everything I was doing was fine and that I just needed to stay in the present.”

Along with defending his individual state championship, Harnden will be defending his individual regional title next year as well.

With a state and regional championship already to his name, Harnden said his focus is on helping Eisenhower get back to the state championship match as a team in his final high school season.