April 9, 2010

By Dan Caldwell
Special to NCAA.com

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Because she was from Indonesia, Shalima Zalsha did not know a whole lot about Nebraska other than that several talented female bowlers went to college there and that the state was well-known for three things: corn, meat and cold weather.

But Zalsha enrolled last fall, anyway, and she is glad she did. She has become a member of the perennially powerful women's bowling team, and she is upholding what seems to be a tradition at Nebraska: the Cornhuskers' roster is internationally fed.

"The air is still clean," she said, "and the people are friendly."

Eight bowlers from outside the United States are on the eight teams that qualified for the NCAA Women's Bowling Championship at Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes - an 82-lane center hard by busy U.S. Route 1 - with Nebraska stocking three international players.

The 19-year-old Zalsha, a freshman from Jakarta, is a reserve on the team. Valerie Calberry, a sophomore from Brampton, Ont., is one of the Cornhuskers' top bowlers, and Danielle van der Meer, a sophomore from Hilversum, The Netherlands, is a regular.

During a break in the action, all three bowlers said they ended up at Nebraska for essentially the same reason: because the bowling team, coached by Bill Straub, has a tradition of winning. Nebraska is aiming this week for its fourth national championship since 2004. The Cornhuskers, who lost a match Friday to Farleigh Dickinson, must come out of the losers' bracket to reach the finals.

"I wanted to get better faster," said van der Meer, who also considered bowling at Wichita State.

Zalsha considered Wichita State, too, and Calberry thought about going to Delaware State, which also participated in this weekend's eight-team competition. But the tradition, not to mention the pleasant main campus in Lincoln, Neb., drew all three international bowlers.

But it is not as if Nebraska lacks bowlers from the heartland. Four members of the team hail from Nebraska, with three from Minnesota and one from South Dakota. But van der Meer said she thinks the Cornhuskers' diversity is one of the reasons why they do so well.

"We all bring different experiences to the team," van der Meer said.

Five Nebraska bowlers since 1992 have won the National Tenpin Coaches Association College Player of the Year. Diandra Asbaty, 30, the nation's top women's collegiate bowler in 2000, went from Nebraska to the Professional Bowlers Association's Women's Series.

Van der Meer, who started bowling at 12, heard about the Nebraska bowling team while participating in a clinic in London. Zalshar, a bowler since she was 11, said she found out about the Nebraska team from her high school coach.

Straub went after Calberry, a member of Canada's junior national team. Calberry said she did not know much about colleges in the United States other than what a friend had told her, but Straub visited Calberry at her home near Toronto and convinced her to visit the school.

"It wasn't the greatest visit of my life," she said, laughing, "but I love the school."

She has discovered in less than two full years on campus that many Canadian athletes -- gymnasts, for example - either go to Nebraska or are members of sports teams that visit the school. Nebraska is not just a big university with a famous football team.

Zalsha has been a member for five years of the Indonesian national team, but she said, "In high school, you are kind of just bowling for yourself."

Now she wears a white shirt with a bold red N for matches, and she feels as if she made the right choice.