People may consider bowling to be a simple sport — someone just walks up and throws a ball down a lane. Anyone who has bowled competitively, however, knows bowling is more complex than that.
For competitive bowlers, each shot begins with the approach. Before each shot, they pick out a spot to stand on the approach and a spot on the lane they’re aiming for, called a mark. The best bowlers are able to consistently roll the ball over their mark.
In some ways, collegiate bowling tournaments are like the sport itself: surprisingly complex. Each tournament lasts three days, with three different kinds of competition on each day.
On Friday, the first day of a tournament, teams bowl five Baker matches with five games in each match. On Saturday, they bowl five traditional matches. On the tournament’s final day, competition is a best-of-seven Baker championship bracket.
The Baker format is different from the traditional format in that instead of one athlete bowling all 10 frames, five athletes bowl two frames apiece. The first bowler will bowl the first and sixth frames, the second bowls the second and seventh and so on.
The person who bowls the fifth and 10th frames is called the anchor. It’s important for the anchor to roll strikes or pick up spares because a strike or spare in the 10th frame guarantees a third ball in the frame.
Gwen Maeha, a sophomore on the Nebraska bowling team, said the team focuses on fundamentals during practices leading up to a tournament. They also place emphasis on picking up spares.
Junior Michelle Guarro said the Huskers arrive to a tournament on a Thursday and will practice for a couple hours. On Friday, the first day of the tournament, the event begins at 8 or 9 a.m. She said the team’s focus during the tournament is mostly mental and not physical.
“Most of it is you practice your fundamentals, and then during the competition, it’s being calm and confident because the other things should be automatic,” she said. “You have been practicing for so long — we practice three hours every day — that going to a tournament is just controlling your emotions.”
Maeha and Guarro both said that during Baker matches, the focus is on the team over individuals. Teammates have each others’ backs no matter what. Even if one bowler is struggling individually, she’s there to pick her teammates up during Baker matches.
“At the end of the day, the score is for Nebraska, not for individuals,” Guarro said.
Both Guarro and Maeha said there are individual goals during the traditional matches, but the individual efforts during the traditional matches help get the team where it needs to be.
Guarro said the mental approach for traditional games is more tiring than it is for Baker matches because athletes bowl every frame instead of just two. As a result, bowlers need to build off every shot in traditional games compared to just building off what others have already done in Baker matches.
According to Maeha, practice on Thursday provides a good outlook for what teams can likely expect over the next few days. However, she noted that the lane conditions will change throughout the course of the tournament.
“Thursday is kind of a prep, then Friday is going for it,” she said.
Both Guarro and Maeha said the team wants to win each tournament, but it also sets goals for each day of the tournament. These goals include not letting emotions get the best of them, as well as having fun and supporting teammates regardless of each bowler’s individual performance.
Maeha said it’s important for bowlers to not get down on themselves because it is mentally draining. She added that it helps having the team together when these goals are set because then all of their minds are on the same goal.
Both Guarro and Maeha said it can be difficult staying focused and remaining energetic over all three days of the tournament.
“For a single day, we’re probably bowling for what, six, seven hours,” Guarro said. "Most of the time we’re not even sitting down unless we finish our match earlier. Then we can sit down and relax but not really. Then after we’re done around 5 [p.m.], it’s dinner and then it’s just go to bed.”