Pin Kings: Washington Township bowlers crowned state’s best

Less than 48 hours after making school history, the Minutemen bowling team relived the memorable day that ended with state crown, Tournament of Champion titles.

Washington Township High School bowlers (front, from left) Steven Spino, Jason Aquino (back, from left) Troy Clifford, Josh Dicks, Marcus Spann and David Libby rolled to the program’s second state title in school history and then collected the Tournament of Champions crown, too. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Washington Township’s perfect bowling season nearly ended with a thud on the first day of February. 

The Minutemen picked a bad day to have a so-so performance and finished third among Group 4 teams at sectionals. But since they  collectively had the highest pin total among the teams that didn’t finish in first or second in their group, they advanced via a wild card, a new addition to bowling’s postseason this year.

Washington Township made the most of the second life. On Monday, Feb. 10, the team picked a perfect day to bowl its best in an unforgettable 2020 season.

The Minutemen defeated reigning Tournament of Champions winner Jackson Liberty en route to being crowned the best team in the state. Earlier in the day, Washington Township also collected the second state championship title in school history (and first in 10 years).

Two days after their historic afternoon, the Minutemen relived the action at Bowlero New Brunswick with South Jersey Sports Weekly.  

SJSW: To be a wild card team barely getting in and then end the day as a Tournament of Champions winner, how does that happen?

Marcus Spann: We just had a bad day (at sectionals). That was the gist of it. We all got on each other and irritated each other and it threw our energy off that day, so that’s what happened that day. And we put that (away) and said, “Alright guys, let’s work together as a team and see how we do.”

SJSW: And this, the first year they had a wild card.

Minutemen in unison: Yeah [Laughs].

Steven Spino: We got a second chance, that’s for sure. 

SJSW: When did you realize despite not doing great at sectionals that you would still be advancing?

Jason Aquino: Coach told me a half hour before they announced it and before everyone else knew, and he was just like, “Don’t tell anyone else.” So I was trying to keep it a secret. I’m like, “Oh well, guys, we’ll get them next year.”

Everyone: [Laughs] 

Aquino: But none of us thought we shot high enough to get the wild card spot.

Spann: We were playing against Eastern, the second-place team in sectionals, and we were bowling next to them all day and Tommy (Burns) and the other kids switched gears and caught us.

Washington Township senior Jason Aquino in action earlier this season. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: When did you realize on Monday that things might be turning your way?

Spann: Oh, once Josh (Dicks) and I started (rolling off) strikes in that second game. 

David Libby: I was going to say when Troy (Clifford) got swapped out.  

Everyone but Clifford: [Laughs]

Clifford: Very funny. 

SJSW: What does it feel like when things come together at the right moment? Because you can have a bad day at any point in the season, but this was the exact opposite, on the biggest day of the season.

Spino: It feels great.

Spann: The energy was high, everyone was feeling it.

Spino: Especially in the Tournament of Champions. 

Spann: I think after the fifth frame, Josh was on 5 and I was on 3 and I got locked in and he got locked in and that was about it.

Josh Dicks: Yeah, in the second game I shot a 278 and Marcus shot a 279.

Aquino: Especially during that second game, we were playing against a team that was in first, that we were behind, in second. But it was just strike after strike after strike and you could just see the look in their faces and their coach’s face.

Spann: It was demoralizing for them.

Aquino: Their whole team went silent.

Spann: And we got riled up. I think we were the loudest people in the building, probably. 

SJSW: Looking at the trophy cases outside, the items inside are permanent. So when people walk by it 20 years from now, through the hallway, your trophies are in there. What does making history mean?

Spann: It’s something they can’t take away from you. Your name is there. Hopefully all of us will become Hall of Famers. That’d be nice, right? 

Dicks: We made a mark. We’re known.

Aquino: It still didn’t hit us until the bus ride back. As soon as I went on Safari and NJ.com’s bowling page and saw a picture of us on there, it was like, “We did it.”

Libby: It was a really surreal moment. 

Aquino: We talked about that moment ever since the season started, “What if we face off against Jackson Liberty in the T of C and beat them?” 

Washington Township’s Jason Aquino holds the Tournament of Champions trophy, which the Minutemaids one the same day as a state championship to be declared the best bowling team in New Jersey, with teammates Marcus Spann, Troy Clifford, Josh Dicks, Steven Spino and David Libby. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: Not every sport has the T of C, where you can say you’re the best team in the state …

Spann: You get to match up against everybody on that one day and can beat everybody.

SJSW: Right, so that kind of heightens it a bit; it’s not just state champs but the best among all the groups.

Spino: Exactly. And especially being underdogs. 

Spann: We were the underdogs? We had beaten everybody and lost only two games the entire year. [Editor’s note: Washington Township finished the season 16-0.]

Aquino: But we were the underdogs in the tournament as a wild card. And we were matched up against the defending T of C champs. 

SJSW: Was there any point in the season you thought the team was headed this way?

Spino: Since the beginning. 

Everyone else: Day one. [Laughs] 

Spann: I would say after we beat Camden Tech. They were the only other undefeated team we played in the season and we swept them 4-0, so that was a big confidence booster. 

SJSW: Let’s mix it up. If you all got on the team bus right now but one of you had to drive, who are you trusting?

Libby: Troy (Clifford).

Clifford: My truck is basically the size of a bus, so, yeah. 

Washington Township junior Marcus Spann in action earlier this season. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: How about we have to solve a math equation right now, who are we giving it to?

Everyone but Spann: Not Marcus! [Laughs]

Libby: I’m saying Troy.

Spann: But Jason is in AP Stats.

Clifford: I’m the one doing all of the equations when I get pulled out of the games. [Laughs]

Libby: At state he said we lost. We were like, we beat Old Bridge by 70-something. And then Marcus comes up and he’s like, “We lost.” 

Everyone: [Laughs]

Spann: I got confused.

Clifford: So, really, anybody but Marcus.

Spann: My grades are in the 90s.

Dicks: But he’s not good in the moment with those things.

SJSW: Who would you consider the funniest guy on the team?

Spann: I’d give it to Troy; he’s the comedian of the group.

SJSW: How about if you needed one strike to clinch a match?

Everyone: [Points at Spann].

Spann: I love it.

Washington Township’s Marcus Spann, Jason Aquino, Troy Clifford, Josh Dicks, Steven Spino and David Libby show off their hardware — state, conference, and Tournament of Champions trophies — after an unforgettable 2019-20 season. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)