Student of the game
Arkansas St. coach using lifetime of knowledge to build winner
A few minutes with Justin Kostick, Arkansas State’s bowling coach, and you understand why his teams have met almost instant success. You also come away with a mental stickie note: If you’re going to knock off someone in Jonesboro, you better not do it in one of its bowling centers.
Kostick’s knowledge of the game is vast. He was literally bred to do what he does and the Red Wolves are benefitting from it.
Over the previous two seasons, the A-State women’s team is 143-74 (including 61-34 last season). The Red Wolves advanced to the NCAA Women’s Bowling Championships for the fourth consecutive season last year – national runner up in 2008 – and they already have two seconds and a third (a 27-11 record in matches) this season. Over the last four years they have been ranked in the top eight. This consistent success is almost a foregone conclusion given Kostick’s pedigree.
Kostick, a Centralia, Wa., native, is from a bowling family. For 40 years, his family owned a bowling center there. His stepfather, Hugh Miller made more than 30 TV appearances and is considered the third-best bowler to come out of Washington behind PBA stars Earl Anthony and Johnny Guenther.
Kostick also bowled at perennial powerhouse Nebraska under PBA champion Bill Straub, coached there and even married to a former bowler on the Huskers’ women’s team. That’s sure to get the attention of his players.
“These girls are so young they don’t know much about my family,” Kostick said. “But I think being from a program like Nebraska’s helped me a lot with them. That is a well-known program and they listen to me.”
And with rapid results. He’s the second coach in the program’s history and he is maintaining the success the program has enjoyed since it began in 2004 under coach Chris James. Winning, Kostick, says, has been a major draw for talent.
“I think what has helped A-State emerge is that it is an FBS school,’ Kostick said. “The college environment the kids get when they come in to visit they really like it. In bowling you’ve got Nebraska, Vanderbilt, us, Louisville, Louisiana Tech, Tulane and UAB – which are both new programs this year – but before they were added there were only four FBS schools. So I think that part of the rise why the school is successful.
“Obviously, right now, our football team [with the recent hiring of Gus Malzahn, formerly Auburn’s offensive coordinator as head coach] is doing great things. Once you get somebody on campus, they are impressed.”
They are equally impressed with Kostick, who has the advantage of all five scholarships and a fully funded program. Armed with that, he looks for strong players with room for improvement.
“I’m not always looking for the person who is up on top of the leaderboard in tournaments,” Kostick said. “I’m not always looking for the kid who’s up on top. I’m looking for the kid who had the potential you can take and make them really good.”
Like Rachael Gittings, a junior from Glen Allen, Va. She bowled in 49 games as a freshman and 41 her sophomore year. She raised her average from 187.88 to 194.98 and is considered a candidate for national Player of the Year, along with Nebraska’s Kayla Johnson. Teammate Amanda Labossiere is another. A sophomore from Buzzards Bay, Ma., Labossiere made three all-tournament teams last year.
“They both have very, very, very good fundamental games,” Kostick said. “They’re both pretty close to textbook. Both are very smooth. Their shot is very repeatable. Strong players.”
Made stronger by Kostick.
“His whole life is bowling,” Gittings said. “He’s a great coach, A great motivator as well. He always gives us good advice. He’s taught us so much about the game. I know he’s changed my game personally and made me a better player. He just knows so much.”
Which gives him an advantage over other coaches. Like going with three lefties on his eight-person team. It’s an oddity, but Kostick knows it can come into play and be a huge advantage.
|Greater Ozarks Invitational||10-3||2nd|
|Sam Houston State Kat Classic||11-2||2nd|
|NOTE: Results as of Jan.12, 2012|
Kostick studies everything to the degree that he could do forensic work regarding what will likely happen, or is happening on a given lane. He takes into account which surface is used, the effect of the oil on the surface and how the ball plays on individual lanes. All of it matters.
“The advantage can be the left side [of the lane] never changes that much,” Kostick said of using lefthanders. “The oil doesn’t change, so the conditions don’t change. So if they have a really good shot at the pocket, they really don’t have to move as much. They can strike a lot because the ball reaction doesn’t change.
“The goal is, when you oil the lane, is to make them equitable. The problem is, you have many different factors that cause them to be equitable or not equitable. You’ve got topography of the lane – which can’t be seen. And some places tend to play better on the left side than the right side. Sometimes the right side plays better than the right side. You have to be careful who you play.”
Kostick said though he usually gets lane conditions a week prior to competition, there is still some educated guesswork involved.
“Even if you have the same lane surface, the lanes aren’t always going play the same,” Kostick said. ‘And that’s even if you have the same lane oil machine, using the same oil. You can get a guide or idea you don’t know how it is going to be until you get there.”
That’s why he has his team ready for any contingency, stressing the physical aspect of the game and drilling them with fundamentals. His belief is the better you are at the physical game, the better player you will be overall. So he looks for kids who are apt to buy into that philosophy. So far, all of those kids are from outside of Arkansas.
His roster is made up of kids from largely the northeast, where bowling is a much bigger sport than the Deep South and he can pull quality kids to his program. But he is making inroads recruiting from Louisville, Ky., Tupelo, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn.. – about 50 miles from Jonesboro. That constitutes progress.
Now if only A-State could make progress on Sundays this season. The weird way things are with bowling is match victories – not pinfall –count most. So if A-State piles up pins leading up to Sunday matches, the matches where the toughest competition is played, if they lose then the result from their effort is a loss.
“Talent wise, I think fundamentally, we throw it as good as anybody in the country right now,” Kostick said. “The system we have sort of penalizes us. We’ve had a little bit of a struggle getting over the hump on Sunday. We’re a good team, but have to get better then.”