WICKLIFFE, Ohio – Bowling, probably more than most sports, can be a family endeavor. Parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters still bowl league themselves and pass down the love and skill of the game to their kids.
Which brings us to Nebraska’s All-American senior Kayla Johnson.
Johnson’s mother, Tracy, and father, Tom, are avid bowlers and wanted to make sure their daughter would always have something in common with them and her older brother Ben. To that end, the Johnsons got their daughter her first bowling ball when she was 18 months old.
Yup, 18 months old.
“Then we would teach her something new every year,” Tom said. “First, it was getting her an approach, then it was keeping the ball in the middle of the lane, then it was making spares and so on.”
One of those lessons, which turned out to define her bowling game, was to teach Kayla how to “bowl like a guy.”
“I wanted to make sure that she became a power player,” Tom said. “I thought maybe that would give her an advantage when she got older.”
It certainly gave Kayla an advantage in Thursday’s morning qualifying block at the NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship. Kayla, due to her tremendously heavy roll and revolution rate, was able to play an area of the lane that the rest of the field could not, helping her total 898 for the opening four games of competition, an average of better than 224.
Even better, her Nebraska Cornhuskers went unbeaten in the morning block, posting a 4-0 record.
“Coaches teach us that when we get out here, we’re trained to do this and to trust ourselves,” Kayla said. “Today I trusted myself on the lanes. I got the right ball in my hand.”
And Tom was there to document every frame, writing down not only the score for each Nebraska bowler, but also keeping track of which pins were left standing after each strike shot. He’s done it for every tournament Nebraska has competed in all season.
|2||Central Missouri (2-2)||3,968|
|3||Fairleigh Dickinson (2-2)||3,923|
|6||Md.-Eastern Shore (2-2)||3,846|
|7||Sacred Heart (2-2)||3,586|
|8||Arkansas State (0-4)||3,790|
|Block 1 Results: Team | Individual | Scoresheets|
“I’m sort of the unofficial official scorer,” Tom said with a chuckle. “The coaches like having the information so they can help the girls make adjustments.”
Kayla’s journey to Nebraska was, you may say, full of adjustments. She always wanted to end up at Nebraska, but started her college career at Robert Morris, then spent her sophomore year at Illinois Central. It was while she was there bowling a tournament that she met Nebraska head coach Bill Straub, a former PBA Tour player and himself a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
“He took my game, which was kind of all over the place, and got me under control and taught me how to be both a power player and an accurate player. We did a lot of hard work on the lanes,” Kayla said.
Straub, for his part, said it was well worth it.
“I’m happy she plays with a big red N on her back,” Straub said with a smile. “We’re lucky to have her. She’s a great person and a hard, hard worker.”
To that end, Kayla, a graphic design major at Nebraska, has plenty on her mind for after school. She’d like to get her master’s degree in business.
“I’m not going to give up on that,” she said. “That’s very, very important to me.”
Bowling is unusual in that women are allowed to compete on the PBA Tour. That is something that’s on Kayla’s mind eventually, but not right away.
“I have a lot to take care of before competing there,” she said. “It’s about getting your finances in order and all of that. I’d love to stay involved in bowling. It’s a passion of mine.”
Later this spring, she’ll bowl in the prestigious United States Bowling Congress Queens tournament, the top women’s amateur tournament in the U.S. She competed in the Women’s U.S. Open earlier this year and finished 39th out of nearly 500 competitors.
Unfortunately, Tom and Tracy won’t be able be able to make the trek to Dallas for the Queens.
“We’re accountants,” Tom said. “We’re a little busy. But we’d love to be there.”