T.J. Rock gave Wichita State men’s bowling coach Rick Steelsmith a reasonable answer to an important question.
But Steelsmith didn’t want a reasonable answer.
He asked Rock his goal for 2020 United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials in Las Vegas in early January. Steelsmith wanted the best answer, one that demonstrated that his freshman bowler, who leaned toward humble, possessed the right amount of swagger.
“Coach Steelsmith said, . . . ‘What are you going to Team Trials for?’” Rock said. “I said, ‘To make Team USA.’ He said, ‘No, you’re wrong. You’re going to Team Trials to win, because I know you can win.’”
Rock, by the end of the tournament, had earned a spot on Junior Team USA, just as he hoped. He didn’t win the tournament, but he learned the lesson that chasing the highest goal can help reach other ones.
Rock, a sport management major from Las Vegas, now has proof. He will join junior Briley Haugh – a second-time Junior Team USA member – and freshman Alec Keplinger on the 14-person men’s team that will train this summer. Coaches will choose four bowlers to compete in the World Youth Championships in September and two for the Tournament of the Americas in August.
“You have to think bigger than what you actually want,” Rock said. “I try to be as humble as possible, so they had to install in me that ‘You’re good and you have to understand that you’re good.’”
Even for a program with Wichita State’s history, three Junior Team USA members at one time is a significant mark. In total, 63 Shockers have competed for Team USA, junior and adult.
It took Rock just a few months to learn how the coaching at Wichita State helps bowlers to those heights. He thought back to a tournament in July. When another bowler surged, he lost confidence. His time at Wichita State helped him focus on doing what he can do to change the outcome.
“Being here in Wichita has helped me understand that I’m actually where I’m supposed to be,” Rock said. “I need to have confidence in myself or I’m not going to get anywhere. I need to grow as a bowler and a person, and that’s why I picked Wichita State."
The benefits of a spot on Team USA are many. They start with the pride bowlers describe when they put on the jacket or uniform with “USA” across the chest for the first time.
“It’s like a moment you never want to end,” said Keplinger, an accounting major from Coldwater, Michigan.
That jersey is, for high-level bowlers, the culmination of years of work, practice and travel.
“I’ve been trying to make Team USA since I was 12,” Rock said. “You’re bowling for your country. You’re part of a bigger thing than you actually thought it was.”
Haugh, a finance real estate major from Faribault, Minnesota, knows his experience two years ago on Junior Team USA will help this summer.
“My mind is a little bit more at ease,” he said. “When you get there the first time, you’re really nervous.”
The instruction and practice this summer with Team USA coaches at the U.S. Bowling Congress’ International Testing and Research Center in Arlington, Texas, is another benefit.
“When you make that team, you know you’re going to get a big boost of confidence,” Steelsmith said. “These are memories that they will have forever.”