Women’s Bowling Finds It’s Lane at NCC

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Women’s Bowling Finds It’s Lane at NCC as it continues to grow with ambitions to become yet another successful Cardinals sport.

What Brought Them to Bowling

So how exactly does someone become a competitive bowler? A quick canvas of the North Central women’s bowling team reveals that there isn’t a straight answer to that question.

Senior Kelly Heighway really enjoyed bowling, but the idea of a competitive team wasn’t an opportunity she had before college.

KH:  “In high school we didn’t have a bowling team where I went to school. So at North Central it was my first time being on a team and actually getting to compete. And I really liked it, just being able to make new friends and travel and get to see places I haven’t been to before, and just compete against some of the best teams in the country, it’s a big challenge but it’s something that all of us I think really enjoy.”

Others converted from other sports, like Kaitlin Freundt, who discovered bowling and found that she enjoyed it more than swimming, the sport to which she had dedicated her childhood.

KF: “I think it was just more fun. Swimming always felt like work. I was good at it, I was successful at it, but going to practice every day would wear me down and it didn’t have that fun feel. And then in high school when I started bowling it was fun, I was good at it, so it just kind of felt like the right fit.”

And then there are some, like sophomore and leading scorer this season Jessica Ramirez, who seem like they were born to bowl.

JS: “I’ve bowled pretty much all my life…a big thing for me was my parents used to do leagues and my sister got me into it as well.”

A New Experience For Everyone

This is just the fifth year for the bowling program at North Central, so the sport is still very much new to the school, and was likewise for an unlikely coach.

Jason Sandborn was a wrestler at North Central, and is hoping to bring that program’s pedigree of success to his, and the athletic department’s, latest venture.

JS: “Getting into the sport and coaching you start to learn there’s so much more to the sport of bowling than rolling the ball down the lanes to try and knock down ten pins. It’s been awesome to learn a new sport, to be able to immerse myself into a new sport and try to get better….. I’m also just a natural competitor, so the opportunity to get back into coaching, leading a program, and have a new adventure almost, yeah.”

Gradual Growth

The team has had its early growing pains, including often only being able to field four bowlers in competitions that required five during it’s inaugural season. But the roster has grown to nine and, for a senior like Heighway who has been around for most of the team’s existence, that’s huge progress.

KH: “I think that so far this year has been one of our best years just having a bigger number, being able to sub in and out when we need to has been a huge asset. And just having that bigger team to cheer and pick people up when they need it has been really great.”

Beyond growing as a team, every practice like this one is an opportunity to get better, with bowlers working on details that the casual weekend bowling alley attendee might never think to consider: like what are my strategies for specific spare situations and throwing after a specific teammate? And what oil pattern is being used at the next event? Like any sport, bowling is a combination of physical skill and mental toughness applied to an athlete’s specific task.

JR: “I think it’s important to know that not only is it a physical sport…it’s a big mental sport…ball changes, how you play, who threw on that lane before you, so many things play into your line and where you want to play and the oil pattern so it’s such a huge thing to have your mental game to focus on where you want to play.”

Setting The Stage For Spring

The team recently completed its fall schedule, with a spring slate set to begin in January. During this six week break, they’re hoping to use the time to refocus on the basic steps of team-building and the refining of individual skills to help continue the programs slow but steady growth.

KF: So far this season I think that we’ve definitely figured out how to work together as a team. The first tournament I feel like was kind of rough. We were trying to figure out where the freshmen fit in, where our transfer fit in, and I think as the season’s gone on we figured out how to work together as a team, how to pick each other up which is a really important part of bowling and kind of just gone from there…”

JS: “We have wrapped up our fall season, but it’s actually one of the most successful fall seasons that our program has had. So there is that improvement there, so there’s things to be proud of, to celebrate. I know sometimes our record might not show it but when you’re competing against the best of the best in the country week in and week out, it can carry some of those difficulties when you’re trying to look at wins and losses or final standings of a tournament.”

JR: “The biggest thing is coming together as a team. Obviously being new here it was a little different atmosphere, making new connections with the girls and I think it worked out just perfectly. I think we gelled so fast and just coming together and improving so much over the last couple of weeks has been wonderful.”

This story appeared as part of the November 15, 2021 episode of The Red Zone