Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Cohesive Huskers Aim For Bowling Crown

By Brian Rosenthal

Among the most successful coaches on the Nebraska campus, Bill Straub seemingly has his bowling program humming along on autopilot.

In its 20 years as a varsity sport – after former Director of Athletics Bill Byrne promoted women’s bowling from the club ranks – Nebraska has won 10 national championships, all under Straub.

Five of those are NCAA crowns since the Huskers won the first NCAA-sanctioned title in 2004. Nebraska has participated in every NCAA Championships since, including this season’s event, which begins Thursday in St. Louis.

So what’s Straub’s secret? His personal knack for recruiting top talent?

“I can’t sell space heaters to Eskimos,” Straub said. “I never could.”

OK, so maybe it’s his profound advice to his top bowlers – this year, seniors Julia Bond and Kelly Belzeski (pictured above) – during events?

“They don’t need me much,” Straub said. “They’re highly developed. They put their nose to the grindstone.”

What about a crafty ability to find advantages to help separate Nebraska from the competition?

Straub says that over recent years, the NCAA has kept increasing the number of bowling balls allowed per bowler. That number is currently six. It’s a number that Straub knows for sure has upset one coach.

He know who it is, too.

Straub.

“There are 75 schools that sponsor women’s bowling, and I would bet you lunch that there’s 25 schools you’ve never heard of,” Straub said. “They don’t have the budget the University of Nebraska does.

“Schools you have never heard of are asked to compete with us, having to pay $200 retail per ball. I thought asking them to spend that kind of money on balls that we get for free (through sponsor Storm) doesn’t seem fair.”

So, again, what’s the source of Straub’s success?

He’ll tell you it’s the student-athletes themselves, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that point.

When you’ve coached 14 bowlers who’ve qualified for national teams, including Bond (United States) and Alexandra Mosquera (Colombia) from this year’s team, it’s easier for Straub to maintain a consistent level of success for the Nebraska program.

“People like Bond get on the national team and travel the world,” Straub said, “and when they succeed, the locals say, ‘How did you get to be so good?’ and people like Julia say, ‘the University of Nebraska.’ ”

Hey, that’s part of why Bond, a native of Aurora, Illinois, chose Nebraska. Former Huskers Shannon Pluhowsky and Diandra Asbaty were factors in Bond’s decision.

Nebraska also had four NCAA titles when Bond was deciding on a school, and she wanted to be a part of the championship fever. Sure enough, the Huskers won the NCAA title, their most recent, in 2015, Bond’s freshman season.

“It’s hard to go through the process without hearing Nebraska, just talking to other college athletes, other parents,” Bond said. “It’s a name that always comes up because it’s such a great school and with a great bowling program.”

Kelly Belzeski, from Schererville, Indiana, attended a bowling combine the summer before her senior year of high school and met Nebraska coaches there.

Like Bond, and most bowlers on this year’s Nebraska team, Belzeski came from a high school team. Usually, bowlers who come from a team setting adapt better and quicker to Nebraska’s team-first attitude, and that’s showing this year, Belzeski said.

 “Our team is really cohesive,” Belzeski said. “Everybody works together really well, and we all know each other inside and out, which is something we haven’t had in previous years. I’m very blessed to have a team this cohesive.”

Said Bond (pictured above): “We all have a common goal. I feel like this year, everyone is very united. Everybody wants it just as much as the other person. There’s not a person on the outside. We’re all in this together.”

Straub clarified when asked if this is one of the most cohesive teams he’s coached.

“It IS the most cohesive team,” he said. “There’s not much difference in skill from them (Bond and Belzeski) and ninth and 10th. That’s a rarity.”

Nebraska began its season in October. It’s since traveled to Houston, Dallas and Chicago, all of which have local Nebraska fan groups that invariably come watch the Huskers bowl.

“They come to coaches when the event is over and say, ‘You’ve got 10 people down there, and only five are playing, but we can’t differentiate from their actions who’s playing and who’s not.’ ”

That, Straub said, is a testament to the team unity.

Bowling is an equivalency sport, meaning the program has five scholarships to split among 10 student-athletes. This year, nine student-athletes are on partial scholarship, with Bond and Belzeski among the top bowlers.

“We focus on fundamentals a lot,” Belzeski said. “Having that straight follow through, keeping our thumbs up. We keep on going back to those. That’s one of our strong suits.”

Bond agreed, saying their jobs become much easier by having a solid foundation of fundamentals.

“It’s not rocket science,” she said.

Well, there is some science to the sport, though.

One 15-pound ball, a set of 10 four-pound pins set in a triangular fashion.

“If the ball is entering at a big enough angle, deflection is minimized,” Straub said, “and that’s their goal.”

Bond said finding a bowling ball she’s comfortable with and knowing what it’s going to do is key.

“It’s a lot of being aware and being observant,” Bond said, “seeing what the ball is doing and then making an educated guess from there.”

Studying different lanes is important, too. Some bowling centers even have topography graphs available that will reveal any dips in the lane that may affect a shot

Like golf’s greens, bowling has the same variable, only invisible. You discover it by trial and error.

And that’s why Nebraska will haul some 900 pounds of bowling balls to the airport.

“If you can’t find your right ball motion,” Belzeski said, “you might go through your whole bag until you find something that matches up well.”

Nebraska is the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championships. The format is double-elimination, with each round consisting of a best-of-three match.

“Regardless of the results, I want this to be a good memory,” Bond said. “I want to look back on this week and be happy with myself and be happy with my team and just remember this as being a good experience.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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