Thursday, March 3, 2011

Steve Barker's 23 Questions with Erica Bortolin

To quote umpire Jim Joyce, "I kicked it"!

There I was, at the O5PBA Bowling School a few years ago, in front of 96 students, 50+ staff members and hundreds of parents and guests, introducing the competitors for the "Mark 10" Finals. And as I was quickly running off students' names, all of which I knew….it happened. The blunder I can't let go! Oh, it wasn't a "Melissa Leo" Oscars F-Bomb, but still…For somebody who was terrified of public speaking as a youngster, between YBC announcements, banquets and the Bowling School, I often now find myself in possession of a microphone. I don't know why, because I don't like my voice, and I'm far too emotional to speak of anything too "heavy". However, the one thing I usually take pride in is preparation and NOT MISPRONOUNCING NAMES! But, on that fateful July day I did a major hatchet job. And it wasn't just anybody! I went "big" and butchered the name of a 3-time Provincial and 2-Time National Champ, that being (and I better SPELL it correctly), Erica Bor-to-lin!!

Erica is in her 3rd year of adult competition, following an incredible YBC career. The Windsor, Ontario native is a 3-time Ontario Champ in the 4 Steps to Stardom, and twice turned those into National titles!! She also won the MBAO Bursary tournament as well as the inaugural Scholarship tournament, where she won $1500 to put towards school. In team play, she won the Senior Mixed Provincials in 2005 and 2006.

In the Masters, Erica has already parlayed her Bursary win into 4 Tournament victories! Also, this 2009 MBAO "Rookie of the Year" made Team Ontario in her first year, and then last year won the Aggregate and went on to win the Masters National Singles Championship!

In the Ontario Open, Erica made the stepladder finals in her first try as a Singles representative, and was named "Female Rookie of the Year"! (The "Male Rookie of the Year" was potential "23 Questions" interviewee, Mitch Davies). Last year, she led her Western Ontario Ladies team to a 2nd place finish.

With an uncanny ability to perform when it counts, all of Erica's personal "bests" have occurred during major competitions. She bowled her 420 high single in the very first game at the 2006 4 Steps Nationals! In 2009, Erica shot 1013 for three games in team play at her first Open Provincials, and this year her 1507 for 5 led to winning the zone round of Western Ontario's qualifier.

During a recent break from her hectic school schedule, I had a chance to interview one of our game's youngest stars.

Hey Erica, thanks for taking time to do this on the eve of your 22nd birthday, and also for forgiving me!! You had mid-terms last week, how did they go?
I’m still waiting to see my mark on two of them, but the one I got back went much better than expected…I’m a little scared to see the other two though, not going to lie. Ha-ha.

How are you managing to balance school and bowling these days?
I’m managing pretty well so far. I thought it would be harder, but when you think about it bowling is only 3 hours a week and 5 weekends out of the year, so thankfully, it’s working out.

You started bowling when you were 6 years old, and went on to become a 3-time Ontario, and twice National Champion in YBC Seniors. To track your development, do you recall what your average was in each of Bantam, Junior and Senior?
I actually just went back to my old score cards to check because I couldn’t remember (yes, my parents kept my score cards ha-ha). My average at the end of…
Peewee: 140
Bantam: 193
Junior: 233
Senior: 249

Did any coaches in particular make a big difference in your game?
There were a few coaches along the way in YBC who taught me a lot, notably Terry Little and Gary Phair. My dad helped me learn to bowl with one hand pretty early on. But right now, no one knows my bowling better than my boyfriend, Kevin; lately, he’s been a big help.
Wow, those are certainly some good teachers! Terry's someone I look up to greatly as well. Plus, he's the main reason I have a Masters ring!

As a reference for those who haven't seen you bowl, could you describe your shot?
I start about a foot behind the dots, with my feet lined up together right in the center. I take three steps, I’m right handed, and I aim for a general area just to the right of the middle arrow, but don’t try to hit a specific pocket. I cup the ball in the palm of my hand, rather than holding it with the fingers and leaving a space between the ball and my palm like most people do. I get a forward roll on the ball, which usually ends up being a fairly straight shot with a little bit of movement, usually a backup. And I’d say I get an average speed on the ball.

Did you make any major changes to your game along the way, or was your progress gradual?
Progress was gradual. The only real change I made was going from four steps to three, but that was in early YBC.

In your last few years of Seniors, was it difficult to get motivated for your YBC league?
No, I loved going to bowling, that’s where most of my best friends were.

Was there anything specific that you enjoyed about YBC, and can you offer any constructive criticism on anything that could be improved?
I enjoyed the number of FREE tournaments we got to play…now that I have to pay for them; I realize how great they were. Ha-ha. Four Steps was always my favourite. Senior Mixed I liked a lot too. I really enjoyed that I got to travel and see a lot of Canada and Ontario that I would not have seen otherwise. I guess one thing that could be improved is the advertising and getting the sport out into the general public.

Did you ever get "grief" from your non-bowling friends about being a "bowler"?
Ha-ha, yeah. My friends at school were always like “who bowls?!” I’m sure most of it was just in good fun though.

Way back when I played YBC (20 + years ago-yikes), it wasn't until my last year or two that we could play in adult leagues or earn money. How much of a benefit do you think it is to be able to play with and against the best adults in leagues, Masters Rookie Tour, and even against the Pros at the O5 Bowling School?
I think it’s a big benefit for the kids who are actually into it. I loved sparing in YABA and bowling with/against some of my coaches and bowlers I looked up to. It made me want to be better. Especially at the bowling school, you have time to seek advice from them as well.

Now, looking at your remarkable record in the 4-Steps…In your 3 Provincial wins, you had 5-game scores of 1339, 1425 and 1482! That's a 283 average! Olympic athletes practice for 4 years to "peak" at the right time. How are you able to peak at the right time for the biggest events each year?
Ummm…to be honest I don’t know. I bowled well some weeks during league too... and trust me there were definitely some tournaments where I did NOT peak, like all the other provincials I went to and didn’t win. Usually I just tried to go in optimistic, throw my ball and whatever happened, happened. Could have been a combination of things, but I’m glad it worked out that way! Lol.

And during a tournament, do you check the standings to see where you are?
Never! I figure, regardless as to where I stand, I still want to bowl well, whether to move up in the standings or to boost my average up if I’m having a bad day, or just for my own self esteem.
Erica, that last part is so true, and probably some of the reason that you've been so successful. Too many kids, and some adults, if they're having a bad day, just start goofing around or just give up. If you keep fighting and finish strong, that can give you valuable experience in the future knowing that if you stick with it, you can figure things out. Plus, a good finish in a house that's giving you problems can give you confidence for the next time you have to play there. I'm really glad you mentioned that!!

How about in a match-play situation, do you watch or ignore your opponent?
Yea I watch what my opponent is bowling. I’d rather not watch, but it’s kind of hard to avoid seeing the score when it’s right next to mine.

With 2 Senior Mixed Team Championships to your credit, do you have a preference between team or singles events?
I like bowling as a single because I control what I am doing and where I stand. If I don’t bowl well, I hurt myself, not 4 other people as well. But, I love the whole experience of being on a team. So I guess I prefer different aspects of each.

The bowlers out of Playdium/Zone A/Western have always been a really close-knit group for as long I've been around. Is there a particular reason for this?
It’s probably a number of things. Playdium is the only house in Windsor, so if you want to bowl that’s where you have to go; it’s not like the other zones that are 30 minutes away from each other, so you can bowl in multiple houses. We do things together outside of bowling as well; during the summer we put together a softball team, and I know some people who went on a vacation together. Probably the biggest reason though is just that Windsorites are awesome!!
No argument here!! Well, except for the DETROIT TIGERS fans.

Your 20 game score in Open qualifying beat all of the Men in your Zone. The other women must have been pulling for you to beat the boys?
Yes, I did have a few women rooting for me to beat the men while we were bowling.

Which adult bowlers or coaches (if any) have you been able to learn from? And is there anything specific you identify that has really helped your game?
Like I mentioned before, some coaches in YBC made an impact. Plus, I learned a few headpin adjustments from Jim Head at bowling school which have been a big help.

And are there any bowlers out there who you really love to watch play?
I’ve always loved watching Terry Little bowl. I also like watching Mitch Davies, Brenda Walters, Jodi Craig, Karole McDonnell, Casey Ramey. There are others, but these are the ones who stand out.

Did your success in the YBC help you to make such a remarkable splash in the Masters and the Open?
Probably just having the experience of bowling in high pressure situations in YBC prepared me for similar situations later on.

Is there any advice that you can pass along to new YBC graduates that might help them in their transition to adult competition?
Just bowl. Don’t think about whom you are up against, stay relaxed, and go out there and bowl like you did in YBC with some confidence and hopefully good things will happen.

What is your favourite event to compete in?
The Open. The competition is great, the atmosphere is unlike any other tournament, and it’s just a lot of fun.
Mine, too. Well said!

Do you have any favourite centres to play in?
Sherwood, Waterloo, West Park Bowl in Ottawa, Plaza Bowl in Sudbury…anywhere with wood lanes really.

You mentioned your boyfriend, Kevin Prieur earlier, and in addition to doing a sick "Chris Farley" impersonation, he's also been a huge supporter of you and your bowling career. You've won 4 MBAO tournaments (ALREADY!), and one of those was the Invitation Doubles event, and you won it with Kevin as your partner. How sweet was that?
It was great! It was nice to share a success with and support him rather than him always supporting me. And yes he does do an awesome impression. Ha-ha.

A normal "almost-22 year-old" would have only a few highlights to choose from, so I'll put you on the spot. Do any of your career accomplishments stand out as extra-special?
Probably winning 4 Steps Nationals in 2005. It was the first time I’d ever been to a national tournament, so I was happy just being there, but winning made it that much better.

You've accomplished more in your YBC career and your "whole two years" in the adult ranks than most of us could dream of, so what are a few of the goals you're shooting for in the near future?
I don’t know about the NEAR future…but one of these years I would like to qualify for the Open nationals, either as a single or on a team. And bowling a perfect game at some point would be pretty cool.

You've touched on this briefly when it comes to YBC, but is there anything that the industry, whether proprietors, leagues or governing bodies, could do differently to better integrate younger bowlers into the adult ranks?
I’m not too sure. I think they are doing a pretty good job right now.

Are there any other changes or improvements that you'd like to see in 5-Pin?
I would like to see the number of YBC and Masters members go up, as would a lot of people I’m sure, but it’s easier said than done.

Medals, trophies, cash, and plaques aside, what is the best reward the game has given you?
Best friends, a reason to travel, and something to look forward to every week while I’m in school.

And finally, what advice can you offer to a younger player who wishes to improve their game or take the "next step"?
Sorry I don’t have much input on that. I don’t usually pay too much attention to the technicalities of the game. Maybe just find a shot that you feel comfortable with and work with it until you are able to achieve some consistency. It’s hard to say, different things work for different people. For me, I found the more relaxed I was the better I did, but that doesn’t always work for everyone.

For "not much input", Erica, that was pretty good!!
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, have a Happy Birthday and we'll see you at the Open in Hamilton!

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