Entering the final day of the NCAA Rochester Regional, Nebraska senior bowler Michelle Guarro did not expect her bowling career to end.
After the Huskers, last season’s National Champions, saw their season and Guarro’s career come to an earlier-than-anticipated conclusion at regionals, Guarro wished she had been more prepared for the stunning way everything unfolded.
“That was shocking to me because, after I knew that we weren’t going to be able to win, it was like, ‘Wow, that was really my last shot,’” Guarro said. “That was the saddest part, not knowing that was going to be my last game.”
In the first few days after the regional, Guarro said she did not want to talk about it, but she soon processed it as a part of life and became proud of her career and her team’s effort. The team did bowl well at regionals, but it just got beat by a team that did better. Nebraska narrowly fell in the regional final to Fairleigh Dickinson, losing the traditional match and dropping the final three games of the Baker-style portion to lose the overall match.
Guarro’s career as a Husker began back in 2017, coming in as a freshman from Guadalajara, Mexico, and has included numerous highlights along the way. She cited the 2021 National Championship as the career high-point, with her holding the position of co-captain as the Huskers captured the ultimate crown.
“I don’t think I’ve ever bowled as good as I did on TV [at the National Championship],” Guarro said. “It was like, ‘Wow if I can do it on TV, it will be amazing if I can still do it over this season,’ and then this season I did way better.”
While her career had high points in team success and leadership, Guarro encountered some bumps on the road early on. Guarro recalls her early time at Nebraska not meeting the expectations she had.
Most of the time when Guarro was not subbed into a tournament, she would keep quiet and not say anything to the coaches about it, even when she felt she could contribute. It was later that she learned to not be afraid of talking with her coaches and improve the communication.
“I have become better now as a senior,” Guarro said. “But I remember as a freshman I told my dad I was scared to come into [former head coach Bill Straub]’s office. At the end I understood it wasn’t that, I was supposed to voice my opinion.”
Another aspect that improved over the course of Guarro’s career was her mindset towards bowling. In her freshman and sophomore seasons, nerves would frequently get the best of Guarro, preventing her from being relaxed in competition.
Realizing she didn’t have to be perfect and that it's okay to make mistakes helped her overcome and manage her mentality. Doing exercises in visualization with Nebraska’s sports psychology department also provided great help during the process, according to Guarro.
As her career progressed, she developed what she calls the “senior mentality” of being better mentally and above what was keeping her down in her first years. With the improved mentality, Guarro excelled in her new role as team co-captain in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
“She showed the younger people what it takes to work hard, to persevere and what it takes to be a good teammate,” Nebraska head coach Paul Klempa said. “She’ll leave that legacy, no question.”
Although Klempa became head coach in 2019, he was a part of Guarro’s college bowling journey the whole way, being a longtime assistant under Straub.
During his tenure, he has watched Guarro improve as a bowler, and helped him build his culture for the team. Klempa defines the team’s culture as playing at a high level, getting fundamentally sound in the sport and a goal of winning national championships.
Beyond that, the culture also involves creating a family atmosphere for the team, while keeping any in-team issues under control.
Junior bowler Gwen Maeha has seen firsthand how Guarro exemplifies that culture. Maeha and Guarro became roommates this season after being randomly paired together.
“I felt like I had someone who I could really talk to, and especially escape from the bowling talk too,” Maeha said. “She’s someone I can go to when I need advice.”
The ability to give advice not just to Maeha, but also to anyone on the team, was crucial in honing her leadership skills as a captain. The players go to her first as a captain with any problems, where she can help with their issues and bring it up with the coaches if necessary.
Her leadership skills this season have left an impact on the team, with them knowing the standard of what to expect in the future even after Guarro’s gone.
“She’s able to speak on topics that some might think of as complicated,” Maeha said. “I know all of our teammates want to fall in her footsteps for sure.”
Guarro’s style of dealing with problems has helped the team work out any differences and improve as a unit outside of the lanes.
To lead the team, Guarro has helped schedule workshops with sports psychologists and has shared things amongst the team to bring them closer. Helping the team become a unified group is what Guarra hopes survives the most out of her time on the Nebraska bowling team.
“My advice for the next generation is always be respectful, have pride and show your teammates that there’s always somebody behind them,” Guarro said. “Never give up—that’s the most important thing.”
Now, Guarro is ready for a life outside of bowling and to become an “actual adult.” Having been heavily involved in bowling since she was 11, Guarro plans to take a break from the sport in total for the next few years.
Even in those next few years without her in the sport, her impact on the Nebraska bowling team will be felt.