Liz Kuhlkin was already a rising star when she dominated the local girls’ high school bowling scene while competing for Schalmont High School.
That didn’t stop her from retooling her game at the next level, however, and her hard work and determination has helped make her one of the best collegiate bowlers in the nation.
The sophomore anchor bowler not only led her Nebraska Cornhuskers to the national title at the NCAA Women’s Bowling National Championship last Saturday night in Canton, Mich., but she was also named a first-team All-American earlier in the week, capping off a memorable campaign.
“It’s all surreal right now,” said Kuhlkin, who said her telephone has been ringing off the hook, and her social media outlets have been “blowing up” ever since she won the title, which was seen live on ESPNU.
“When I decided to go to Nebraska, one of my goals was to win a national championship. I can remember talking about those goals. Now, I’m living the dream,” she said. “Hoisting that trophy was amazing. I think it’s just starting to sink in what we’ve accomplished. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that all that hard work really paid off.”
Although football is king at Nebraska, Kuhlkin said that bowling also gets its share of publicity.
“Here at Nebraska, all the sports are respected,” she said. “Of course, football is huge, but we have the most championships of any team here, and we get a huge amount of respect from the athletic community, the faculty and other student-athletes. We’ve been truly blessed. There have been signs about us all over campus, and we’ve been giving countless interviews and press conferences ever since we won. We’ve been on the radio and in all the newspapers.”
Kuhlkin said her family and friends back in the Capital Region were thrilled.
“My father was there behind us when we won,” she said. “But so many other people have been calling me. My telephone has been attached to my hand ever since Saturday night. It’s been crazy.”
Kuhlkin looked like a can’t-miss star when she competed for the Sabres. She rolled an 835 triple, was a member of Schalmont’s Section II Class B championship squad and was the national high-average champion among all USBC female youth bowlers.
As a freshman at Nebraska, she averaged 197.4 and helped the Cornhuskers to a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
But she elevated her game as a sophomore to become one of the team’s leaders, both on and off the lanes. Her average zoomed to 214, and she was in the running for national player of the year. She also became a player her teammates could count on for advice.
“I take my leadership role seriously,” she said. “It’s a little different being a sophomore and already being looked at as a leader on this team, but I just take it in stride. A lot of girls come to me for help, and that’s a huge honor for me. Kristi Mickelson is my roommate, and the only senior on the team. She knows what it takes to be successful and I learned a lot from her. Whatever the team needs, I try to supply it.”
Even though Kuhlkin was already extremely successful on the high school level, the Nebraska coaching staff, including head coach Bill Straub, a former PBA touring pro, and Johnstown native Paul Klempa, tweaked her game.
“When I first came here, they really worked on my fundamentals,” she said. “I didn’t really have a push-away. I just kind of let the ball drop in my approach. They also worked on my timing. I didn’t have the best balance in the world, either, and they worked a lot on that. One thing they also concentrated on was having me go back to a more direct shot. I started trying to hook the ball a lot, and they thought my game would be better to be more direct, like I was most of my career. They kept working on making my balance better and following through straight toward the target.”
Interestingly, high-tech equipment had very little to do with Kuhlkin’s success.
“We all use Columbia 300 equipment, and it’s relatively old stuff, as far as the brand names go,” she said. “I’m using a Rock On ball now. It’s easier to read the lanes with the older bowling balls. Columbia 300 supplies our team with the bowling balls, so we all use them.”
Kuhlkin said she doesn’t plan on resting on her laurels.
“Becoming a first-team All-American was obviously a huge honor for me. I knew I was a pretty good player as a freshman, but I also knew I had a lot to learn, so my mindset was to do whatever my coaches wanted me to do,” she said.
“Now, my goal is win another national championship. Our program already won back-to-back titles once before, and we’d like to do it again.”
Debbie Capullo, a two-time New York State Queens Tournament champion, almost won her third tiara, but finished second to Team USA member Brittny Hamilton of Webster. Hamilton beat Capullo, 220-208, in the championship game last Saturday night at Town ’N Country Lanes.
Capullo earned $650. Hamilton took home $1,100.
Capullo’s lessons with former PBA touring pro Brian LeClair obviously paid off. They had been working together for the last eight weeks.
Other area bowlers who made the cut for match play included Jessica DeVellis (Albany), Devan Hlodlik (Watervliet), Laura Rotter (Schenectady), Krystal Auricchio (Schenectady), Jenean Bailey (Albany), Jessica Aiezza (Mechanicville), Danielle Manuli (Delmar) and Helen Waite (Hudson Falls). Patti Tenyenhuis of Saugerties, also made the cut. She regularly competes in Capital Region events.
JUNIORS IN SPOTLIGHT
The inaugural Gazette Junior Team Championship will be held Sunday at noon at Sportsman’s Bowl.
Each four-person team will be comprised of bowlers from the majors, juniors and preps divisions. The typical team will have two majors, one junior and one prep. There must be at least one girl on each team. Handicap will be 100 percent of 720. Entry fee is just $20 per team. Pizza and soda will be provided.
Teams will be bowling for area bragging rights. The winning team members will receive trophies and possession of the Hal Buell Cup — named for the late former Gazette bowling writer — for one year.
Walk-in entries will be accepted, but please be at Sportsman’s by 11 a.m. so we can process later entries.
Among the top majors and juniors competing this weekend are Ron Zadrozny and Brandon Wolfe of Towne Bowling Academy; Zach Porter, Jamie Gradoni, Eric Mannato, Isabella and Nina Serafini, Todd Barndt, Kyle VanBlarcom, Aiden Deitz and Elizabeth and Joshua Ross of Sportsman’s Bowl; and Ryan Bekkering, Troy Gapczynski, Anthony Gray and Sydni Gapczynski of Rolling Greens.
Top bowlers from Boulevard Bowl include Matthew Gonzales, Tyler Wilson, Ryan Karabin and Victoria Giaquinto. Chris Hanson and Shawna Martin pace a team from Burnt Hills Lanes.
HUCK FINN CORNER
The Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York/Huck Finn Capital Region Bowling Show’s season finale is set for Sunday with the Jack Scaccia Sr. Memorial at Boulevard Bowl.
Qualifying continues Saturday at Town ’N Country Lane at 3 p.m. and Sunday morning at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at Boulevard Bowl, followed by the finals and then the TV taping at roughly 5 p.m.
Top prize will be $3,000 (minimum). The runner-up will receive $1,500.
Call Jeff Segel at 439-7628 for reservations to the qualifying sessions.
STRIKES AND SPARES
u Dan Massaroni, 84, of the Amity league rolled his first career perfect game en route to a 738 series last week. Massaroni is believed to be the oldest bowler in the Schenectady Bowling Association to roll a 300 game. Massaroni has been a member of the Amity league on and off since the league started in 1954. He took 22 years off and returned to the league in 2009. The Amity league will merge with the Emery DiCocco league next year.
u Mike Drexel (299-791), Craig Taylor (300-801), Mike Lichtstein (259-776), Joe Mazuryk (297-782) and Chris Rebstock (267-708) rolled a huge 3,858 in the Green Mountain Open at Rutland Bowlarama over the weekend.
u The 18th annual Blizzard Bowl team event concludes Saturday night at 9:45 p.m. at Boulevard Bowl. Entry fee is $60 per team.
u The Lane Sweepers, consisting of Kyna Dedeaux-Larsen, Mike Santulli, Mary Kavanagh and Harold Smith Jr., won the KAPL Mixed league title.
u The Sportsman’s Bowl PBA Experience League starts May 2 at 7 p.m. and runs for 12 weeks for all adults and junior bowlers. Three-person teams will roll four games a week. Dues are $10 a week. The winning adult team will receive a paid entry into a PBA regional event.
u Also on Thursday nights at Sportsman’s will be an 8x8 league, where each bowler will receive a polyester bowling ball at the end of eight weeks. Cost is $8 per week.