Kendal Saueressig fine-tuned her bowling technique at Richlands Atomic Bowl, but she learned the game at a makeshift alley constructed by her older brother, Kyle.
Instead of a bowling ball, she used a basketball, and instead of pins, she tried to knock down water bottles.
And the alley?
It was downstairs in our house, Saueressig said. We have a big carpeted area, and hes like, Its kind of like a bowling alley.
It was nothing like a bowling alley.
But the experience helped her realize she had a knack for the game, and she felt more comfortable bowling than playing basketball or softball.
Once I got onto the real lanes, it became more fun because, no matter how good I was doing, there was always room to improve, said Saueressig, who has bowled for five years. I remember getting my first 100 game, and from there, it was like, Oh, maybe I can get a 150 game. Oh, maybe I can get a 200 game.
This season, the Hanford junior averaged a 182 over 28 games, second-highest in the Mid-Columbia Conference behind Kennewicks defending state champion, Karissa Shiflet (192 over 30 games).
Saueressig will lead the Falcons into todays crossover district match against Sunnyside at Atomic Bowl. The winner will advance to the Class 1A/2A/3A district tournament Wednesday in Yakima against Kennewick, West Valley and the Connell-Selah crossover winner.
Hanford, Connell and Richland added bowling to their winter schedules this season. Though Saueressig has worked her way up from bowling at home to competing in Washington State United States Bowling Congress tournaments, she is thrilled to finally represent her school in the sport she loves.
"When I first came into high school, I didn't think it would ever happen in my time," Saueressig said. "I thought it would take a couple more years after I graduated. Of course, I've been watching Kennewick all these years, and I know a couple girls on their team. I always wanted to bowl in high school, for my school, and see what we could do with that, so we were really excited when we found out about it."
Saueressig admits competing in the MCC against established teams from Kennewick, Chiawana and Pasco was intimidating at first, but that fear has faded a little more with every match.
"Really, it's our first year so we're learning the ropes," Saueressig said. "It's been a lot of fun, and getting to bowl against so many other competitive girls that are really talented, that's pushed me a lot because it gives me a goal to work towards, being as good as they all are."
As the team captain and Hanford's most experienced player, Saueressig usually is the last bowler in the lineup.
"She really brings in the points to add to our team," said sophomore Cathrine Robertshaw, who has bowled for a year. "She gives us the confidence that we need."
Saueressig also tries to help her teammates by not hovering over them as they learn the game. Out of the 16 girls on the team, only Saueressig and Robertshaw competitively bowl outside the high school season.
"They're picking up on it pretty quick just by watching what more experienced bowlers are doing and videos that we do in practice, but I only help when they ask for help because I don't want to be pushy at all," Saueressig said. "I know how it feels to be at that level. When I first started, I was terrible, but it took a lot of work to get better at it."
Robertshaw said the pressure often is on Saueressig in the last frames of Baker games, when she tries to earn the winning points for her team.
"She handles it really well," Robertshaw said. "I don't think I would take it as well as she does."
Coach Tim Faix said Saueressig sets a positive example with her willingness to try new things on the lanes and her ability to remain laid back in high stress moments.
"She doesn't show it on the outside that much," Faix said. "Even when you know she's under pressure and feeling it, her form's consistent.
"When other bowlers are under pressure, you can see them start to worry. They start to second guess themselves, they start changing things, but she's pretty good at maintaining her form."
True to form, Saueressig isn't worried about what could happen in today's crossover match. Advancing to the district tournament is the goal, she said, but having fun is important, too.
"Since it's our first year and it's more about the fun for us right now, we do get along very well because we're not so competitive," Saueressig said. "If we miss a spare here or there, it's not a huge deal. It's not the end of the world for us."
After all, she and her teammates know how far they have come.