Mertins ‘brings the focus’ to Warhawk bowling



Senior Caitlin Mertins (pictured), a former Subway Athlete of the Week and CIBC Bowler of the Month (February 2020), helped lead the Warhawks to the Intercollegiate Team Championships last season. (Michael McLoone/UW-Whitewater Athletics)

Sam Strash, Assistant Sports Editor

Senior Caitlin Mertins has a long, storied past with the sport of bowling. From participating in junior tournaments in middle school to winning the Wisconsin High School Bowling Club state championship in 2018, Mertins has found plenty of success in the sport, including in her time at UW-Whitewater; the team recently made an appearance at the 2021 Intercollegiate Team Championships, placing third. Mertins credits her father as her main inspiration for bowling beginning in her youth.

“It’s definitely a family thing,” said Mertins. “My dad and his whole family were into it. He got me and my two siblings into it. It was something that Dad taught us once we got to a certain age. He was a big support for me and he’s always been my main coach.”

While the sport may appear simple in nature, bowling is far more complicated than just throwing a plastic ball with holes at a few objects 60 feet away. The best bowlers in the world must understand the oil pattern placed on each lane prior to throwing the ball, determine which ball in their collection is the best suited for the lane conditions as well as their own physical capabilities and most importantly, maintain a calm, focused mental state to endure long tournament days on the lanes.

“I think the main thing that college bowling has really taught me is how much bowling is a mental game,” said Mertins. “Tournament days are long. You need your body to keep up with you and your mind has to stay in it, even if you’re not making the best of shots, to be able to recenter yourself.” She says she tries to “bring the focus” for the team, a phrase she says is very popular amongst the athletes on the team.

Mertins, along with the other bowlers on both the men’s and women’s teams, are part of a new generation spearheading a rapid growth in popularity in the sport. In 2006, the New York Times dubbed bowling the fastest growing high-school varsity sport, with almost 40,000 athletes participating across the country. Since then, the sport has grown among all demographics worldwide, with over 100 million bowlers participating in the sport. One aspect of bowling that may be causing this increase in appeal is the individualistic aspect of the sport itself, which Mertins highlights as one of her favorite aspects of bowling.

“I really like that it can be so individual of a sport. There’s no one right way to bowl,” said Mertins. “There’s bowling right-handed, left-handed and even two-handed and so many other different mechanics. It’s great to see the growth and see the same success out of different types of bowlers throughout every season. It shows that your game can be anything you make of it as long as you can work hard and be willing to tighten up your mechanics and be consistent with them.”

“Anybody can bowl if you practice enough and find your own way of doing it; you can be successful with it.”

While anyone can participate in collegiate club bowling, not all athletes can be a member of an NCAA-affiliated bowling team. More specifically, the men’s teams are not affiliated with the NCAA while the women’s bowlers are. This may seem as a disadvantage to the men, but Mertins does not see it this way.

“I really don’t see a difference,” said Mertins. “I know we have different formats and a few different rules per the NCAA, but competition-wise I don’t think of it as a disadvantage for the men’s teams to be non-NCAA. I feel that they still get the same recognition. It’s really an issue higher than me.”

In the end, Mertins has her sights set on her education. While bowling is her passion, she keeps her priorities in line with getting her degree in education.

“College bowling is definitely more than I ever expected. It has opened a lot of doors in my mind to things that are possible for me,” she said. “As far as going professional after college, I think it would definitely be something down the road or something I have to keep up with and I feel like as of right now I’m more focused on obtaining a career not necessarily in bowling. I’m more focused on the education aspect and becoming a teacher first.”

“Bowling has brought me my best friends in life,” she said. “The things I’ve been able to learn and bring into other avenues of life with schooling and my career, they all tie together. It’s like a big web in my mind of everything bowling could bring me and has brought me so far.”