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League of Her Own : Ninth-Grade Star Bowler Has Her Hopes Pinned on the Olympics

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Krista Moerschbaecher, 14, slipped off her rings and put her blistered thumb into a magenta bowling ball. She pushed her long blond hair off her shoulders, took four smooth steps and rolled a 16-pound ball down the lane, knocking all but one of the pins into pandemonium.

And with a swift second roll, the last pin went flying into the air and landed on its side.

Then, after her warmup spare, Krista threw four strikes in four rolls. She smiled shyly at her coach, Art Leseberg.

“She doesn’t know how good she is,” Leseberg said, watching the slender teen during an afternoon practice at Buena Lanes in Ventura. “Nobody tells her this game is hard, so she just excels. This is just comfortable to her.”

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The ninth-grader at Nordhoff High School in Ojai has had the highest average in Ventura County’s junior girls bowling league for the past seven years. She rolled her first 200 games in third grade, and has been addicted to bowling since. Krista’s ultimate goal is to bowl in the Olympics if the sport makes it to the Games.

“I’d bowl my heart out,” Krista said. “It would be even better than going pro.”

Krista’s interest in bowling began after a summer trip to the lanes with her grandmother when she was 5. When she was 7, she joined a county league and was averaging 96. While her girlfriends were learning to pirouette and twirl in ballet class, Krista was practicing her roll and building her forearm muscles.

“Ever since she was 8 years old, she has wanted to be a professional bowler,” her father, Scott Moerschbaecher, said. “It’s not what you imagine for your child. But now our whole life is bowling. The whole family is definitely in this.”

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Moerschbaecher, his wife, Carol, and often the grandparents, spend most afternoons and weekends cheering for Krista. Every Monday she practices at Buena Lanes and every weekend she bowls at various alleys in Los Angeles County. And throughout the year, she competes in tournaments in California and Nevada. This summer, she will bowl in a tournament in Hawaii.

Krista’s numbers speak for themselves.

At-home average: 197. Traveling average: 203. Highest game: 276. Best three-game series: 726 (embroidered onto a denim jacket). The most games rolled in a day: 22. Most strikes in a row: nine.

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Has she rolled a 300 game? Not yet.

“You never know when you’re gonna get a perfect game,” Krista said. “I’ve been trying for a while, and I know I’ll get it someday.”

But trying to roll a perfect game isn’t the only thing that keeps Krista busy. She also holds a 4.0 grade point average, plays on the school’s tennis and basketball teams and works part time at an Ojai coffee shop. She said she plans to go to Arizona State University because of its bowling program and so she can major in business. Krista wants to bowl in an amateur league first, then professionally.

After Krista knocked nine pins down at practice, she pushed the button to reset the lane.

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“That’s the easy way to get a spare,” Leseberg teased Krista.

She smiled, grabbed her ball and slammed it down the lane, leaving three pins standing. Walking toward her coach, she sighed, scrunched her nose and said, “That was horrible. My whole approach was off.”

“Loosen up,” Leseberg said. “Relax your swing. Hit your target. And remember--what does the ball have to do?”

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Krista answered in bowlers’ lingo: “skid, hook and roll.” Skid is when the ball goes through the oil on the lane. Hook means turn. And roll is when it has a nice finish and hits “the pocket” (between pins 1 and 3).

And with that, Krista rolled yet another strike.

Krista said most Nordhoff students know she bowls, but she only tells her closest friends when she wins a tournament.

“I try not to show off and I don’t like to brag,” she said. “I don’t want people to think I’m better than I am.”

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At a tournament in Las Vegas this year, Krista placed third and won a $500 scholarship. Her father said he hopes she will win even more scholarships. Bowling is not cheap, he said.

Krista’s four balls each cost about $200. Her shoes, decorated with purple and green shoelaces, cost $100. Shiny bowling shirts, with her name in cursive on the back, cost about $70. Then there are gloves, socks, skirts, jackets, towels, blister tape and of course, a bowling ring and pendant.

No matter what it costs, Krista said she will keep bowling “until I’m not able to pick up a bowling ball.”

“I love bowling,” Krista said. “I want to bowl for the rest of my life.”

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