Katie Kleinmaier never bowled a baker-format event.
No problem. In fact, quite the opposite.
The 2010 Dixon High School graduate took her many talents to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater because of the school's media arts program. They also had an upstart women's bowling program.
And as former Dixon girls coach Jim Johnson and current skipper Larry Lacoursiere will tell you, Kleinmaier is blessed with both talent for the game and the work ethic to reach her full potential.
"She works so hard, and I'm so, so proud of her," said Johnson, who turned over the head coaching reins to Lacoursiere 5 years ago. "She's just a wonderful person, a great student-athlete and an excellent teammate."
That last word brings us back to the baker format, in which each bowler throws two frames of each game. For instance, if you threw the first frame, you'd next throw the sixth, and so on. The Duchesses used the format a few times during practice, but in matches?
"Never," Kleinmaier said. "Now I prefer it, because no one can look up there and say they're doing the best."
Making their mark
The Warhawks can look at the historic scoreboard and say that they were the best, as a unit.
The non-scholarship Division-III program qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time, and made two-time defending champion Maryland-Eastern Shore sweat during the first round of the tourney after beating it during qualifying.
UWW was the only D-III school to finish top eight in the nation in Detroit. On Friday, it wrapped up a banner campaign by tying for seventh in the United States Bowling Congress tournament, an intercollegiate event hosted by the sport's governing body in Lincoln, Neb.
After losing the first game to Norfolk State in the morning session, the Warhawks won the next four to take the best-of-seven series in five. But Kutztown seemed to get all the pin action it could ask for in a four-game sweep in the afternoon.
"In the morning, our lowest game was a 200," Kleinmaier said. "We felt really good going into our next match, but we just couldn't get the carry. And they did. Their average game was a 250."
"The big guns come out for that tournament," Johnson said.
Kleinmaier says being able to hang with them comes down to one simple concept.
"We're so dedicated to our sport and to each other," she said. "We are so close as a team, and we're here because we love the sport."
To compete with the best
In a bit more of a literal sense, UWW got to Detroit and Lincoln because their coach, Leann Eimermann, changed the program's scheduling mentality.
It left the Wisconsin Collegiate Bowling Conference after going 10-0 in its two tournaments, going 37-1 in games.
"Winning like that, it wasn't helping us to grow as a team," Kleinmaier said.
This season, all but two of the events on the Warhawks' schedule were USBC-sanctioned, beefing up its strength of schedule and, with opportunities to grab points toward sectional qualifying every week, making a national tourney berth possible.
The third weekend in January, possible gave way to expected, when the Warhawks won their first USBC event, the New Year Knock Down in Brooklyn, New York.
"It was the feeling of, 'Finally, we did it,' " Kleinmaier remembers.
Because of that indoctrination, she and her teammates felt right at home when they placed among the nation's elite eight at the last regular-season event Vanderbilt in mid-March.
"It was great to be there and know we deserve to be in that top eight," Kleinmaier said.
To be fair, they already knew they belonged, having won one of the USBC's four sectionals March 9 in Fairview Heights. Sixty-four teams qualified for sectionals, each sectional field being made of up 16 teams.
Stay in touch
Watching every shot he could was Johnson, via the USBC's feed on bowl.com
"I watch intently as best as I can," he said. "She was good in high school, but she's tremendous now."
The senior league at Plum Hollow Lanes found that out first-hand when Kleinmaier visited and bowl with them over Christmas break.
"They were highly impressed. She was putting up ridiculous scores," Johnson said, laughing. "It was pretty easy for her with the way the lanes were conditioned. She's gotten a lot stronger."
And a lot sharper. Kleinmaier says she's worked hard on her mental game, learning not to overanalyze matters. But consistently braving sport shot patterns during two varsity college seasons demanded that she take her technique to a whole new level.
"Bowling in college requires so much more precision than in high school," Kleinmaier said. "We have to know that when we throw the ball, it's going to hit right where we want on the lane and do exactly what we want it to do."
Same goes for knowing exactly what your teammate is going to do if you're struggling.
"For me, it's all about the team," Kleinmaier said. "I know I can come in and do it, but I also know my teammates can step in and do it. For me, sitting out isn't such an awful thing."
Kleinmaier was a 2-year captain at Dixon, and Lacoursiere calls her the "ultimate teammate."
In turn, Kleinmaier has the ultimate compliment for her former Dixon coaches.
"Larry and coach J, they just made me love bowling so much," she said. "They made it fun. They never pressured you to do more than you wanted to, and they realized everyone had a different level of dedication and skill level.
"It's because of their coaching that I'm doing as well as I am today. I never imagined we'd be where we are now."
Like a perfectly glanced 8-pin sliding over to clip the 10, Johnson selflessly deflects the praise.
"That's really nice of her to say, but she gets all the credit," he said.
High school: Dixon, Class of 2010
College: UW-Whitewater, junior
Family: Parents Bruce and Patricia, siblings Jeff, Jen, Matt, Brad
Academic honors: College – Two-time All-American, Dean's list all five semesters, Chancellor's Scholar; High school – Valedictorian
Bowling achievements: College – Helped Warhawks to first national tournament berth ... placed 15th individually at USBC sectional ... her 245 is tied for 12th-best individual game on team this season ... was member of team's top baker game (268) and match (1,527); High school – 13th individually at 2010 state meet, helped Duchesses qualify as team
Fields of study: Finances (major), media art (minor)
Hobbies: Traveling, will study abroad in London this summer