By Preston Byers
For Youngstown State University bowling coach Doug Kuberski and his 10 bowlers, it didn’t take long to capture gold in the 2019-20 season.
During the team’s first tournament in October, the Columbia 300 Penguin Classic, YSU plowed through its seven opponents en route to the tournament title. The Penguins did much of the same the following weekend, when they won the 16-team Mount Shootout in Maryland.
While the team didn’t have nearly as much success in the subsequent three tournaments, an extended break from competition, which lasted nearly two months, seemed to rejuvenate the roster at the Northeast Invitational in mid-January.
In a tournament with 26 teams, the largest field the Penguins have had to face this season, they finished fifth.
Kuberski said he gave his bowlers notes on areas in which they could improve before the break.
That advice, in addition to staying in touch through texting and FaceTime, as well as some bowlers using their time to play in extra tournaments, seemed to help clear off any rust the team may have acquired otherwise.
“We came out of the gates in the first tournament, and we were pretty strong,” Kuberski said. “The lanes were very challenging, and we were, I think, one of the sharpest teams there, especially with spares. That’s a testament to the team working hard over break because it’s definitely a challenge when you’re away for almost a month and a half.”
A long holiday break is not the only challenge the Penguins face, though. Of the four remaining tournaments before nationals, the closest is in Smyrna, Tennessee, which is nearly 600 miles away from Youngstown. Other destinations for the YSU bowling team include Lincoln, Nebraska, Jonesboro, Arkansas and the team’s longest trek, Conroe, Texas, which will be about a 1,300-mile trip for the bowlers.
A trip the team certainly wouldn’t mind making is one to Allen Park, Michigan, which is the site of the 2020 NCAA Women’s Bowling Championships in April.
Before the season, senior bowler Nikki Mendez had set goals for herself and the team, but making it to Allen Park was near the top of her list.
“I wanted us to make nationals, and we have a really good chance of getting there,” Mendez said. “I wanted us to at least win one tournament because I know we have a lot of talent, and we did do that — we actually did twice. And I wanted us to be ranked in the top 15 in the National Tenpin Coaches Association.”
In the most recent NTCA poll, which was released Dec. 4, the Penguins sat at No. 9, a 14-spot improvement from the preseason poll released at the beginning of October. YSU finished last season at No. 24 in the NTCA poll, which was the highest end-of-season ranking in program history.
Kuberski understands it won’t be easy to stay so high in the polls. In addition to a crazy travel schedule, as Mendez put it, the team will face some of the best teams in the country over the next two months. But they hope it’s all in preparation for the national tournament.
“We want to be there [at the national tournament]. So that’s the goal,” Kuberski said. “I think we’re in a position to do so, and we’re just going to keep playing our game and kind of let all that rankings and all that the selection stuff take care of itself, but we definitely plan on being there in April and hopefully making a deep run.”