When Bill Straub and his staff took over coaching duties for the Nebraska women’s bowling team in 1997, the team was beginning its first season as a varsity sport. Today, Nebraska bowling is one of the top collegiate programs, winning five NCAA national championships while also being the only team to qualify for each of the first 15 NCAA Bowling Championships.
This season marks the 67-year-old Straub’s 21st season as the head coach for Nebraska bowling, but his connection to the program dates back to 1983, when he volunteered with the men’s club bowling team.
Straub said the coach at the time was an administrator who drove the bus to each tournament but didn’t know much about bowling.
“The kids asked for help, this guy came and said, ‘Would you come and watch them for a while?’ That was now 35 years ago, and I never left,” he said.
Straub became the head coach of the women’s team in 1997, when athletic director Bill Byrne first added women’s bowling as a varsity sport. The Husker women’s team has won 10 national championships since then, and the Husker bowling teams have combined for 12 titles.
Straub was born on March 12, 1951, and he’s spent most of his life in Lincoln. Straub got into bowling at a young age when his mother took him to watch her bowl.
“The league they had for juniors at that time wouldn’t allow for anyone under 8 to compete, but I was oversized then,” Straub said during a speech delivered for the Sowers Club this past summer. “My mother said, ‘If they don’t ask how old you are, don’t tell them,’ so I started bowling in leagues when I was 7 years old.”
Straub said the stability of the coaching staff makes running the program much easier.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel each year; we’re just trying to regroup and go at it again,” he said.
Straub said the team usually has two or three spots available for incoming freshmen each season. They receive about 75 applicants for the open spots each season, with about 50 of those applicants just wanting to be a part of Nebraska bowling.
He said from the remaining 25 applicants, the staff goes after those with a combination of strong athletic ability and good work ethic.
He begins each recruitment pitch by asking potential recruits if they want to be a Husker, an idea he learned from a friend who used to go door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners.
“He’d knock on a door and a person would come to the door and he’d say, ‘You don’t want to buy a vacuum cleaner, do you?’” Straub said. “If they said, ‘Maybe,’ he figured he had a chance. I’ve kind of adopted that. I want to be sure that they want to be here. When I get past that, I’ve got a chance.”
Junior Allison Morris said the legacy of the program and the opportunities to athletes at Nebraska played the biggest roles in her decision to come to Nebraska.
Straub said he is strict on fundamental development during practice because he believes managing body movement allows success to occur more rapidly — if you can control how your body moves as you bowl the ball, you’ll perform well more quickly.
“A lot of the stuff we do is very goal-oriented, so we either have a time limit or a certain number of successes that we want to complete,” Morris said of Straub’s practice methods. “I think that gives us the right mindset during tournaments to have a goal and to be able to reach it.”
Straub recalled a rival coach once saying Nebraska wasn’t that good but didn’t miss spares. He called it the greatest compliment he’s ever received.
He compared a bowler trying to pick up a spare to a relief pitcher in baseball entering the game and trying not to walk anybody.
“The main thing the reliever’s got to do is get the dadgum ball over the plate,” Straub said. “In our sport, it means sparing. It’s confidence related.”
Straub believes the most difficult aspect of sustaining success at a program is once you reach the top. At that point, everyone else is trying to beat you.
“You’re always looking over your shoulder,” he said. “Keeping focused on the next shot, the next game is harder to do when everybody out there knows you’ve got a target on your back.”
Assistant coach Paul Klempa said Straub’s coaching methods enable the program to sustain success because of the focus on developing fundamentals.
“You always have this heavy development of players going on,” he said. “As your upperclassmen graduate, the younger people are developing to the point where they’re maximizing their potential, and it just keeps that line going.”
This article was modified at 2:41 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 3 to correctly attribute a quote from Straub's speech to the Sowers Club.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 edition of The DN.