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Forgive Nebraska Coach Bill Straub for being so reflective in the aftermath of perhaps his biggest milestone in bowling yet – his 10th national championship (and the Huskers' eighth NCAA women's bowling national title) last Saturday night, live from Canton, Mich., on ESPN2, a telecast that was repeated Sunday afternoon on ESPN.
Without a senior on the team, Straub was almost speechless when the Huskers won another NCAA title, and 2 1/2 days later, he was still seeing it all through a surreal lens.
“It’s a dream and off the charts and all that, but, really, it has very little to do with me,” Straub said. “It’s about this whole athletic program – the way it was built up when Bob Devaney was here, and the way it keeps going under Coach (Tom) Osborne’s leadership. He has this program’s future moving where we all want to go, athletically, academically, medically, socially and any other way you measure success.”
Bowling may be an afterthought or even a non-thought at most schools, but it has unlocked some important doors and secured a positive place in Nebraska’s athletic department.
“It means something when Coach Osborne congratulates you,” Straub said. “You feel a part of the whole, a part of the bigger team. I’m still trying to process all the e-mails and the phone calls we’ve received, and the only thing I can come up with that describes the way I feel is something everyone already knows – ‘There is no place like Nebraska.’”
Competition, Coaching = Kudos, Recruiting Success
There is no place where a fellow head coach or a fellow student-athlete will shake your hand or pat you on the back in the lunch room after watching you bowl on national television.
No place where two of your three 2009 All-Americans make Nebraska their destination before the coaches who recruit them even know who they are.
And no place where your assistant coach, former Husker All-America bowler Paul Klempa, could be the head coach at any of the other 55 teams which compete in NCAA women's bowling.
“I have the best coaching job in bowling in America, whether you’re talking pro, college, amateur or any other level,” said Straub, the former PBA bowler who took up coaching as a second career and has never looked back. “It’s a kick . . . it really is to see how Nebraska has put itself on the national map and even the world map in bowling.”
Even though Nebraska does not have a varsity men’s bowling team within the athletic department, Straub strongly credits the men’s national club championship in 1990 for setting such a high standard for the program. The men also won a national club title in 1996. Saturday’s triumph in suburban Detroit was the eighth national championship for the women’s team, which also won in 1991, ’95, ’97, ’99, 2002, ’04 and ’05.
Former Bowlers Get the Recruiting Ball Rolling
Nebraska’s three current All-Americans include a junior, Cassandra Leuthold, from Black Hawk, S.D., and two freshmen – Valerie Calberry and Danielle van der Meer from Brampton, Ontario, and Hilversum, Netherlands, respectively.
Straub insists that two of Nebraska’s first five Collegiate Players of the Year – Diandra (Hyman) Asbaty and Shannon Pluhowsky – continue to play important roles in keeping the Huskers at the top of collegiate bowling. “They’re both former world champions,” Straub pointed out, “and everyone around the world wants to know where they got their start.”
Asbaty, a Chicago native, is a two-time first-team All-American and was Nebraska’s 2002 Female Student-Athlete of the Year. Pluhowsky, a Phoenix native, is a three-time first-team All-American and a two-time World Cup champion.
Asbaty and Pluhowsky aren’t the only ambassadors for Nebraska bowling. Derek Eoff, another former Husker Club All-America bowler, “was just named the U.S. Amateur Player of the Year,” Straub said, “and Mike Machuga (a two-time Husker Club All-American) just won his second PBA national title. They both saw us win the NCAA on TV and sent their congratulations.”
It’s enough to make Straub understand how a great program can leverage its best assets and create even more momentum.
“We had no idea how this extraordinarily young team would respond to the pressure of national television,” he said, “especially after we were eliminated last year in Omaha. But I would have to say that the maturity level and the emotional control they exhibited over the weekend belie the date of their birth. They handled the pressure as well as any team I’ve coached.”
Straub: Bowling is a Child of Television
Bowling, Straub said, “is a child of television in both the professional and the amateur ranks. Unlike golf, where every shot in every tournament counts, bowling throws out what you’ve done in your previous rounds to create more drama for television. This year, we handled the pressure. Last year, we didn’t.”
That’s why Straub thinks Nebraska’s latest national bowling title is a 10 in every way. “We finally have our own 10-pack,” he said. “We better find a way to put 10 stones in our national championship rings. They may not be very expensive stones, but they will signify a certain level of excellence that this program has achieved.”
The Huskers’ national success continues to attract international talent. This week, Shalima Zalsha, a three-time Indonesian national champion in high school in Jakarta, signed her National Letter of Intent to attend Nebraska.
“My sales skills at recruiting are, at best, lame,” Straub said. “Thankfully, the program all but sells itself.”
Come to think of it, so does the athletic department, the university and the state. "That's why I keep coming back to the same thing," Straub said. "'There is no place like Nebraska.'"