A young Nebraska bowling team has its eyes on a NCAA title

Senior Valerie Calberry is one of two seniors on this year’s squad.

Photos and Story by Matt Haron, NewsNetNebraska

When asked who the most successful team has been at Nebraska in recent years you might be surprised to hear that the answer is women’s bowling.

Nebraska won the NCAA championship, in 2009. A year later the Huskers lost the NCAA championship game by just a few pins. It was one of the closest games in NCAA history.

After finishing third at last year’s NCAA Championships the Huskers lost some of their top athletes to graduation. This year, the team knows that it will have to stick together if it wants to continue that winning tradition.

“We have a very young team with a load of talent and I think that in time they’re going to be very successful,” said Coach Bill Straub.

Senior Kayla Johnson knows that her leadership role is pivotal if the Huskers want to win a national championship this season.

Rebuilding, reloading

The Huskers have relied on seniors Kayla Johnson and Valerie Calberry to take the leadership reigns this year after four seniors graduated from last year’s squad.

The Huskers have had four athletes finish on all-tournament teams this season.

Lizabeth Kuhlkin, Kristina Mickelson, Calberry and Johnson have all taken their turns at leading the Big Red. Johnson recently earned first place individually at the Prairie View A&M Invite in Arlington, Texas.

Johnson and her teammates are quick to credit many of their achievements to their coach.

“He not only teaches things on the lane but he teaches life lessons and those life lessons carry over to make my bowling even better,” said Johnson.

Together, the team has finished no worse than fourth in all six of their tournaments thus far, including a third-place finish, last month, at their own Big Red Invite. Nebraska has finished runner-up twice this year including its finish last weekend at the Morgan State Invitational in Baltimore, Md.

When the Huskers travel to these tournaments they compete against anywhere from a dozen to over 20 teams. Even though they are usually one of the favorites, coming out near the top each time requires focus and concentration from the first day to the last.

“Every year we enter the bowling season as the favorite. So every year we’re determined to win,” said Johnson.

Nebraska finished third last year at the NCAA Championships and want nothing more than to get back into the finals of the NCAA Tournament this year.

“Our goal every year is to make it to nationals and once we make it to nationals we make our determination there that we want to win,” said Johnson.

A Winning History

Success has continued over the last decade because of Coach Bill Straub’s ability to recruit.

Mike Shady, a high school coach in Erie, Pa. and former All-American bowler at Nebraska said Coach Straub does a great job at finding the right athletes who can mesh into his program.

“Bill is superior at recruiting athletes, not just a bowler, but a player who is a multi-sport athlete and who also excels in the classroom,” said Shady.

Coach Straub gives instructions to his team before practice.

In his years at Nebraska, Straub has coached 14 bowlers who have combined for 32 All-America awards. Seven women that he has coached have been named to national teams.

Straub’s women’s teams have never been ranked lower than seventh in the top 25 bowling poll since Nebraska named women’s bowling a varsity sport in 1997.

Looking Ahead

Although this year’s team is so young, they are hoping their success so far this season will again make them a favorite at the upcoming NCAA Championships in April.

Coach Straub says there is something different about this year’s team. He says that the team chemistry is something he’s seen only a few times in all his years of coaching.

“I think if they had the opportunity they’d all live in the same apartment complex,” said Straub.

And that may be exactly what will give the Huskers an advantage over their competition this April in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Huskers have one more tournament on their schedule before the NCAA Championships. They will next be in action March 16-18 at the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn.

Coach Straub says that it’s important to take it step by step and focus on the process in order to finish the season strong and get another shot at winning the national title this year.

“We do our best to make the next shot better than the last one. Hopefully that culminates with an invitation to the NCAA Championship, but I don’t agree with focusing on the end result. We try to focus on the task at hand which means one ball at a time,” said Straub.