By Scott Taylor
University of St. Francis junior Nicole Troha arrived at the school after a successful high school career at Lockport, where she was anchor for multiple years.
But at first, her love was softball, not bowling. That put her behind the eight ball compared to others in her class. However, she was able to realize her love for bowling in time to get recruited.
“I was kind of under the radar because softball was my main sport,” Troha said. “I kind of had a falling out with the sport and lost the love for it and I started to really look at bowling. My senior year I started to buckle down. I had some schools recruit me, but St. Francis was close to home, my sister was here, (coach) Tony (Talley) was here. It was everything that I wanted and needed and I love the choice I made.”
Even with her past successes in high school, college was a much different stage for her. For one, everyone has to make an adjustment to bowling on sport shots every day. But Troha was behind many others from an experience standpoint as she didn’t bowl in many sport shot tournaments or leagues and was a hard thrower.
“It was a pretty big transition for me, personally, because I didn’t bowl in too many sportshot leagues or tournaments before I came to college,” Troha said. “My entire freshman year was a learning experience. I practiced every day on making quality shots and hitting my spots. You don’t have a lot of miss room at all. I threw really hard when I came in, so I had to soften up and get my release better. I wish I would have started a little bit earlier so I would have been ready my freshman year, but with the people around me, it was a good time for me to grow.”
In her freshman year, behind fellow Lockport alum Caitlyn Hoffman, the Saints put themselves on the map with a strong NAIA Tournament run. But, while Troha was a part of the varsity team that year, she didn’t make a big impact.
“I was pretty much the eighth man my freshman year,” Troha said. “I threw some fill shots here and there, but I was pretty much the No. 1 cheerer. They had it locked down my freshman year and I got an opportunity to start the next year and I took it and ran.”
With Hoffman being the lone senior on the squad the previous year, Troha still had plenty of work to do to crack the starting lineup. And the work she put in has paid off since as she advanced to the Intercollegiate Singles Championships last year and has been among the top bowlers at tournaments this year.
“I have put in a lot of hours,” Troha said. “I put in 40-50 games a week last year. I bowl 35-40 now and I am trying to cut back a little bit so I can be ready for the end of the season and bowl over summer. My coaches and teammates always help me. Someone always shows up to practice with me and I have lessons with my coach every week and there are things I work on and drills. It is definitely the hard work that got me through.”
For someone to work that hard and make such improvements in such a short time, there had to be some sort of motivation fueling them. For Troha, there was.
“I had some people doubt me in the past and it kind of fueled me to be the best,” Troha said. “I was surrounded by some really good people and I had to up my game to get on their level because they are so good. They were at a higher level than me and I had to get my stuff together if I wanted to start.”
The transition was made a lot easier because she had grown up with many of her teammates.
“It has really helped because we already have the bond,” she said. “I had my sister on the team and a couple of really good friends from high school and the other girls just kind of clicked because we all knew each other. It has made things really easy.”
While there are many girls throughout the Joliet area on the team, it is that Lockport pipeline that has been especially noticeable from both near and far.
“We definitely have a lot of Lockport people here for both the girls and guys as everyone can tell,” Troha said. “I’m definitely proud because we produce a lot of talent at Lockport because of the program that was built. We all work hard so we can be successful at the next level.”
It has been that unique chemistry with coaches and players, as well as being close to home and teammates throughout the year that has allowed Troha to get to where she is today.
“I definitely think that because I am at St. Francis, I am where I am right now,” Troha said. “If I would have went somewhere else, I think things definitely would have been different. My coaches give me so much time and effort. They work with me multiple times a week. My teammates are always there to watch me. I feel like other programs don’t practice and bowl together over summer as much as we do because we are such a local team, so that is a huge advantage for us. I think St. Francis has really helped fuel the success I’ve been having.”
It is the fourth year of the bowling program at St. Francis and many of the freshmen who started the program are now seniors. Even though she is just a junior, Troha realizes the importance of having the seniors go out in style.
“The next semester is really important to us because it is the first graduating class we have that went freshman through senior year,” Troha said. “We are going to be graduating close to half our team this year. That is a really big year because we have four or five girls on our varsity team who are going to graduate after the semester, so we are working very hard because we want to make their senior year everything they can be.”
To do that, it will take a better showing at the national tournaments than they had last year, where they were eliminated early in both the NAIA and ITC Tournaments.
“Last year we had the big high point at sectionals when we won and really had a great tournament,” Troha said. “Then we went to bowl nationals and it was one of those letdown moments where we didn’t see it coming. We have something to prove this year because we didn’t have good national tournaments and we weren’t able to get done what we wanted to. But this year we have a chip on our shoulder and have been working hard to get ready for the end of the year. We have one goal and one vision, and we have to execute our shots and pick up our spares.”