In 2006, an 8-year-old Raquel Orozco began bowling in Tijuana, Mexico. 14 years and one move to another country later, the senior is wrapping up a standout career for Nebraska bowling.
Orozco’s father bowled in a weekly league with friends on Wednesday nights, and she and her older sister participated in a bowling school on Sunday mornings. One of the coaches there said they had potential, so the sisters began bowling more frequently.
A year later, Orozco’s sister bowled in a national competition in Tijuana, where she won several medals.
“After that, we realized it was something that we could continue doing because in other sports we were not very good,” Orozco said. “I went to the next national championship and I got a team gold medal.”
Bowling is less popular in Mexico than it is in the United States, according to Orozco. Here, there’s a path bowlers can take to become a professional, starting in youth bowling, working their way up to collegiate bowling and then eventually bowling professionally.
In Mexico, it’s mostly recreational. People bowl in leagues or with friends, but there’s no real opportunity to bowl professionally.
During the five years Orozco bowled for Junior Team Mexico, she compiled several accolades. She won a national championship six times and earned several medals in international competitions, including gold in Panama at the 2015 Youth Pan American Bowling Confederation Championships.
Orozco began considering bowling collegiately in 2013 after she bowled against Team USA. She knew the team’s coach, who encouraged her to look into it. Orozco then began looking at schools and narrowed down her options over the next three years.
A couple of key considerations for Orozco as she narrowed down potential schools were financial opportunity and academic standing. Finally, she narrowed it down to Nebraska, Central Missouri and McKendree, though she had never visited McKendree’s campus.
“Nebraska was the best option for me,” she said. “I really liked the team, the coaches, the campus, so that’s why I came here.”
As the first athlete from Mexico to compete for the Huskers in bowling, Orozco made an immediate impact during her first season in Lincoln. She posted the sixth-highest freshman average in program history with a 202.3.
As a sophomore, Orozco had a breakout campaign. In seven of the Huskers’ nine tournaments that year, she recorded an average of 200 or better. Five times she posted a top-five finish, including wins at the Crusader Classic and Central Missouri Invitational. She averaged 211.4 pins a game on the year en route to first-team All-American honors.
Orozco followed up her breakout sophomore season with another solid campaign last year, recording one top-five finish and placing sixth twice. She posted a 205.8 average over the Huskers’ 10 tournaments and earned first-team All-American honors for the second consecutive year.
Those two All-American selections are the accomplishments Orozco is most proud of.
“I came here as being nobody,” she said. “I mean, I came from another country, and coming here and seeing that I had a chance to become one of the best started to build up, but I never expected that I was going to be this good.”
Orozco is on track to pick up a third first-team All-American selection this season. She has four top-10 finishes already, including two inside the top five. She has posted a 212 average or higher five times, highlighted by a 220.2 average in a fourth-place performance at the Prairie View A&M Invitational.
Head coach Paul Klempa said Orozco is easy to coach because, in addition to being talented and smart, she is accountable for what she does and is willing to learn and try new things.
“Her performances bowling wise have been really stunning and magnificent many times,” he said. “That’s why she’s our anchor. She’s clutch, and she’s performed at a really high level for three consecutive seasons now. That’s had a big impact on our ability to be competitive.”
Orozco said she’s able to maintain focus throughout the season by using one day after each tournament as a break from bowling and a chance to reset mentally by doing things she enjoys outside of bowling. These hobbies include reading, traveling, listening to music and especially biking, though she said she doesn’t ride much during the season to avoid injury.
Bowling has helped Orozco find the courage to face more situations in life.
“In bowling, you’re always put in a situation of do or die and in real life I think it’s the same,” she said. “You have to constantly take positions, make changes in order to continue. In competition, if you’re facing a challenge, you have to work on it in that particular moment. In life it’s the same. We always have to be taking positions in a clear and mature way.”
After graduation, Orozco expects to take a couple of years off from bowling, but said she thinks she’ll eventually compete in some professional events closer to home. Sponsorships will be important for her to have a chance to pursue bowling professionally, as they will help with the cost.
With her collegiate career winding down, Orozco hopes that the impact she leaves on Nebraska bowling will be that of someone who does the best she can in every situation.
“Live in the moment and enjoy the things on our daily basis and really do what you are passionate about,” she said. “That’s what takes you to a good position.”