Roommates Mickelson, Kuhlkin with points to prove in Detroit
CANTON, Mich. -- For most college roommates, the most dramatic thing they go through during the course of living together is figuring out who's going to wash the dishes or who ate the last bit of the peanut butter.
Nebraska teammates Kristina Mickelson and Liz Kuhlkin went through something a bit more serious.
In September, just before this season was set to begin, Mickelson, who was about to start her senior season, was involved in a car accident on her way to practice, breaking her right arm -- her bowling arm. Kuhlkin usually is the one to drive the pair to practice -- except on that fateful day.
"It was awful getting the phone call that she had been in the car accident," Kuhlikin said. "Since we usually drive together, just knowing that it could have been me.
"Sometimes I wish it was me so that it was something that we could go through together," Kuhlikin said as Mickelson shook her head in disbelief. "My heart was broken for her."
"I thank God every day that she wasn't in that car," Mickelson said, head still shaking.
What followed for Mickelson was painful and exhaustive rehab, all with the hope of getting back to her team in time for their run to the postseason.
"I couldn't bowl for three weeks, then I was cleared to bowl like, four days before we went to Valpo (for the Crusader Classic in November)," Mickelson said. "I was nowhere near ready to bowl at Valpo. I probably shouldn't have bowled at Valpo. I bowled really badly and it's just been a trek to get back to where I could bowl competitively again.
"I take painkillers and I do Icy-Hot," Mickelson said. "That's just how it works."
Interestingly enough, what happened during Mickelson's trek was Kuhlikin's climb from impressive freshman to sophomore superstar. After averaging 196 in her freshman season for the Huskers, she entered the championship averaging 214.
"It kind of took me off-guard, how much I progressed this year," Kuhlikin said. "I put a lot of time into my game this summer and talking with Coach [Bill] Straub. I put a lot of hard work in, but I was still taken aback."
One person that wasn't was Straub.
"She's worked her tail off to try and help things out as best she can," Straub said of Kuhlikin. "She's continuing to develop as a player and she's turned into quite an excellent one."
Kuhlikin also gives plenty of credit to her roomate for her run of success.
"Kristi and I have always had that competitive nature with each other and I think it helps us both," she said. "I've learned so much from her. She knows all about Nebraska fundamentals and what it takes for us to be successful. She's almost like a third coach when we practice."
Apart from her knowledge, which is expansive, she gained a reputation as a tough girl -- and an inspiration to her teammates and her coach.
"She's pretty gritty," Straub said of his lone senior. "She's played through this the entire time. She's had kind of restrictor on her elbow to kind of keep things tight. She just grits her teeth and plays along. It's been a tough year for her, but it's not through lack of effort."
So far at the championship, that effort appears to be paying off. The Huskers enter Friday's double-elimination Baker-style round as the No. 1 seed after going 5-2 in their seven matches. Mickelson led the individual standings, averaging 224.9. Kuhlikin was second at 219.9.
However, seasons start ending Friday. Both women say their experience -- on the lanes and off -- has them up for the challenge.
"[Thursday] serves as a big motivator," Mickelson said. "If we do good [Thursday], then we know we can do well [Friday]. We keep pushing, then we'll keep doing it."
Kuhlikin says the brave play of her roomate also serves as motivation.
"She deserves a good sendoff, and we're gonna do all we can to give it to her."