Girls bowling: Expect more of the same from Buffalo Grove's Soskich
Looking back, it all seems so surreal for Buffalo Grove bowler Jessica Soskich.
It was turning out to be a stellar season for Soskich, as she was near the top of the Mid-Suburban league in individual average all year long, and as a matter of fact she wound up finishing third overall in the conference when all was said and done.
Unfortunately though, bad luck interfered in what is now a well-known story.
As a junior last season, she was "crushed," in her own words, after suffering what appeared to be a season-ending injury late in the year.
A ruptured tendon on a finger of her bowling hand looked as if it would shut her high school season down. Instead, she was given medical clearance to bowl in the postseason and, improbably, won the individual state championship.
Starting the second day of the state tournament in seventh place at Cherry Bowl Lanes in Rockford, Soskich fired a 1,402 series, including a 286 game four, and her 229.1 meet average saw her celebrating a state title.
"I'm still in shock," said Soskich on the eve of the opening of her senior campaign. "I think about all the hard work I put into it, and when I think about what happened, I have an overwhelming sense of shock and amazement. Whenever I get down I think about that day, and it picks me back up."
"It was hard to watch one of my athletes go down with injury," said BG coach Jean Tripam. "But Jessica kept a positive attitude and supported her teammates for the remainder of her conference matches. Then (once she received the OK to continue bowling), she began to focus on getting ready for regionals and helping her team make a push to state."
The Bison did qualify as a team for the state finals, and at that point Soskich said it was mind over matter.
"It was definitely the mind game that helped me succeed," said Soskich. "I tried to stay be positive and be strong in the brain, be strong all over."
And on the final day at Cherry Bowl, even though she knew she was bowling well, she tried to block out all of the hoopla that surrounds the competitors and the tourney, not even keeping track of her scores.
"The coaches do that," said Soskich. "I just try to bowl to the best of my ability."
Then came the final ball of the day, and the surprising announcement from coach Tripam.
"After my last shot," said Soskich, "I walked off the approach and just stood there. Coach Trip came up to me and said, 'How does it feel?' and I said, "Trip, what are you talking about -- how does what feel?"
"That's when she said, 'How does it feel to win state?'
"I said 'Oh my God' and I started crying and gave her a huge hug. Then I started hugging my teammates, my coaches, my parents and everyone who supported me. I've never had support like that before."
Soskich said her approach entering last year's state finals was just to "have fun and do the best I could," and added that there was no thought at all that she could possibly win the state crown.
But that's what happened, and she enters this season as defending state champion.
"I think that once we got down to state as a team, which was Jessica's goal all year," said Tripam, "she was able to relax, have fun and live in the moment. The second day, she was so laid back, but she was excited to be there. She did get a ton of support from everyone, and I'm just grateful that I was able to be a part of such a wonderful accomplishment."
Soskich, an Arlington Heights resident who attended Poe Elementary and Cooper junior high, said she played basketball and softball early on (and still competes on the BG golf team), but quickly found that bowling was the sport she enjoys the best after joining the Bison team as a freshman.
"I love the game," said Soskich. "I always wanted to practice, every single day. There was never a day when I didn't think about practicing, and if I couldn't, I was watching bowling on TV and staying bowling-focused."
That attitude should take her far again this season, her final campaign as a senior, and she's looking forward to more team success.
"It was a unique experience to go downstate as a team," said Soskich. "We've got most of our players back this year, and we've got the talent to get back (to Rockford).
"I've experienced making great relationships over the last few years, with great teammates and great coaches, and making friends from other teams as well. I love the whole camaraderie of the bowling family, and I've made lot of really good friends that I never thought I would have."
Soskich has already signed to attend Valparaiso University in the fall and bowl for the Crusaders, where the plan is to study to become a physician's assistant.
"I wanted to bowl in college, and after seeing the Valpo campus, it just felt right," said Soskich. "They've got a great PA (physician's assistant) and NP (nurse practitioner) program, so we'll see. All I've heard is great things about Valpo and how you can make friendships there that can last a lifetime."
But that's in the future -- for now, she's focused on keeping up her "A" average in school and pitching in to help her BG teammates on the lanes.
Will being a defending state champion, someone who's widely recognized in her sport, change the senior's approach to her favorite sport?
"I'm going to be the same person I've always been," said Soskich. "I'm still going to work hard, go to lessons, go to camps and try to get better every day."