Katlyn Bay has no idea what to expect from herself this weekend at the IHSA state bowling meet at the Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
If her performance under pressure the past 2 weekends is any indication, it could be a memorable ending to her freshman season.
The 14-year-old Dixon High School student has saved her best bowling for last this winter, showing her mettle in the most pressure-packed environments. Her 1,292 six-game series was her high-school best, earning her third place at the Freeport Sectional and a berth at state.
"I went into it with an open mind, I guess," Bay said, "and it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. It wasn't like I hadn't been in big tournaments before, so that made it easier to adjust and just go out and bowl."
Pressure doesn't seem to bother Bay one bit. Last year, as an eighth-grader at Reagan Middle School, she finished second at the IESA state meet, and her opening game of 279 set the IESA girls record, and tied the boys mark.
Her cool, calm, collected demeanor was on full display again last Saturday. Her morning session finished with a 222 and a 265 after her 178 start, and she closed her afternoon with back-to-back 224s following a 179 opener.
"Honestly, I bowl better in those situations," Bay said. "I know if I don't bowl well, I won't be bowling the next tournament, so it helps push me to be at my best."
When Bay gets locked in, nothing seems to crack her veneer … not even something as trivial as her score. While coach Larry LaCoursiere never lets his bowlers watch the standings, Bay has an easy time avoiding the leaderboard.
Instead, she relies on her hard work and form to carry her through, and is often surprised where she ends up.
"I knew I was bowling well, but I didn't really look at where I was in the standings," Bay said. "Everyone else was more excited than me, because they knew where I stood, and it wasn't until the end that I realized I was bowling well enough to move on to next week.
"You just get talking to other people, like my family and Larry and Emily [Quaco, her Dixon teammate] and the other bowlers, and you can lose track of the bigger picture."
Bay said she didn't feel any different heading into Saturday's sectional, and didn't have any notion she would fare as well as she did.
But LaCoursiere knew she was hitting her stride … literally.
"She's been a lot smoother in her approach," he said, "and I attribute that to her hard work and practicing with teammates like Emily. Katlyn learns quickly from watching others, and she can get comfortable with any adjustment in any situation."
A little luck of the draw might help Bay's comfort level Friday. She's paired with a girl from Belvidere and another from Belvidere North, who Bay bowled with at sectionals. LaCoursiere believes the familiar faces, as well as the talent level of those two bowlers, will again help Bay raise her game.
Experience will also be a big key. Not only has Bay been on the big stage before, albeit not at the high-school level, but her involvement in so many other activities – volleyball, softball, band (she plays flute), the dance team, choir, madrigals, and a role in the DHS musical – prepares her for whatever bowling throws at her.
"It helps me adjust quicker to every different situation I find myself in," said Bay, also a straight-A student tied for first in the freshman class. "I'm used to staying busy, focusing on one thing before moving on to another, and that's big when it comes to the ups and downs of a bowling tournament."
The key lately to avoiding those up-and-down swings has been Bay's ability to pick up spares. While it was something she wasn't as consistent with earlier in the year, she's been taking advantage of every opportunity the past 2 weeks.
But the biggest advantage Bay may have is her reliance on herself. Always happy to help her team, she said not having them there bowling next to her this weekend may actually help take the pressure off of her.
"If I mess up and don't bowl well, I'm only letting myself down, not the whole team," Bay said. "I know I have to focus and bowl my best, because my team isn't there to hold me up."
There's also the sibling rivalry card Bay can play this weekend. Her older sister, Samantha, made two trips to state with a full Duchesses team, and placed 52nd individually as a junior in 2011 with a 12-game total of 2,323.
While LaCoursiere does his best not to compare the two, Katlyn is perfectly aware of what she wants to accomplish when it comes to such comparisons.
"It makes me want to do better than her," Katlyn Bay said with a smile. "There's always a little sibling rivalry there, and that pushes me to work harder and get better."
Katlyn Bay file
Sports: Bowling, softball, volleyball
Other activities: Band (plays flute), honors choir, dance team, madrigals, role in DHS musical
Family: Parents John & Debbie Bay, sisters Samantha (19) and Allison (13)
FYI: Placed 2nd at IESA state tournament as 8th grader in 2012, & set record for best game with a 279. … Father, John, has been bowling in Monday night league since he was 19. … Sister, Samantha, made two trips to state meet with Dixon team. … From a bowling family: grandparents & great-grandparents also bowled, and her aunt used to work at Brunswick, a bowling ball manufacturer.